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Do we have a right to clean air?

Beijing shrouded in smog after a sandstorm
Reuters/Tingshu Wang
Health warning.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli



Ella Kissi-Debrah was only nine when she died in London in 2013. The cause was respiratory failure, but it’s pollution that killed her.

That is what the coroner determined in a landmark case, which explicitly linked the girl’s death to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) says are safe. Vehicles were the main cause of such emissions, which were especially high where the Kissi-Debrah family lived.

The coroner established that the exposure to air pollutants exacerbated the victim’s asthma and respiratory problems, hastening her death.

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