Episode eight, Season two of the Climate Curious podcast is now live with our special guest, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.
“Our lungs are not experiments. Every single minute, every day, damage is being done. And that’s what happened to Ella,” says clean air advocate Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah and mother of the late Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah on the latest episode of the Climate Curious podcast by TEDxLondon. In our most-startling chat to date, she sheds light on the air pollution crisis, how it’s affecting our health and making us sick, and what a future clean air act should look like.
A psychology and philosophy teacher, Rosamund became a pivotal figure in the clean air movement after overturning the decision made in the landmark inquest of her late daughter, Ella. In 2013, Ella was nine-years-old when she died following an asthma attack, which has now been proven in Southwark Coroner’s Court to have been caused by air pollution, making her the first person in the world to have air pollution listed on her death certificate. Going as far as to prove that illegal levels of air pollution caused the damage to her lungs, which were as bad as a smoker’s lungs, according to medical reports.
This was no mean feat. Rosamund explains to us the years of work that went into this, and how tough it was on her and her family: “It is so rare for anyone to quash an inquest. What people need to understand is, we had to have overwhelming evidence that would stand up in court. It all sounds really easy now, but it absolutely wasn’t. Why did I do it? I did it because as her mother, I wanted to know why she died. Why did she become so ill?”
Unable to walk due to extreme grief following the death of her daughter, it has taken time Rosamund time to digest the impact of the justice achieved.
“I think I am more comfortable now that the air pollution movement have their poster girl. It took a while. She’ll always be my firstborn and my daughter, but if by them adopting her and what she went through – if it will educate people, then yeah, I’m quite happy for her to do that.” – Rosamund
So how dirty is our air?
Air pollution is causing nearly 9 million premature deaths per year, worldwide. And as Rosamund says “our contribution to air pollution is the biggest environmental disaster right now. I keep on trying to make the invisible, visible. But unless people can see something, they don’t believe it”.
What does it mean for our health? And who is affected the most?
Air pollution has a significant effect on public health, and poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. In 2010, the Environment Audit Committee considered that the cost of health impacts of air pollution was likely to exceed estimates of £8 to 20 billion.
Epidemiological studies have shown that long-term exposure to air pollution (over years or lifetimes) reduces life expectancy, mainly due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Short-term exposure (over hours or days) to elevated levels of air pollution can also cause a range of health impacts, including effects on lung function, exacerbation of asthma, increases in respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions and mortality.
If you live closer to a busy road with heavy traffic, you are more likely to suffer the effects of air pollution. This typically affects communities who live in lower socio-economic areas whose homes are packed close to the road (and are therefore cheaper), and are more likely to be from diverse backgrounds. For those who live in the countryside and suffer from asthma, this might be due to the ammonia used in farming, or particles that are released during wood burning.
What can we do to make it better?
Following the Coroner’s Inquest, who gave a 3-point recommendation action plan (read the full version on the Coroner’s site) to ensure this doesn’t happen again, Rosamund is now incorporating this into a future clean air act called Ella’s Law, which she is petitioning to be adopted around the world:
- Minimum WHO limits of air pollution
- Governments must monitor air pollution levels
- Education for medical professionals on the symptoms of air pollution
But it’s not all bad. Rosamund shares:
“Air pollution is something we can do something about. And it is a crime that we’re sitting here today in 2021, saying nearly 9 million people die from air pollution. This shouldn’t be happening. If we clean up the air, you are also solving the problem of climate change.”
In this conversation, hosted by TEDxLondon’s Maryam Pasha and advocate for positive masculinities, Ben Hurst, Rosamund recommends the simple things you can do today to limit your exposure to air pollution – (including walking on quieter streets), what a future clean air act should look, and why we should be reframing air pollution as a health thing, not just an environment thing.
Until next time – stay curious!