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‘Air pollution factor in girl’s death’

Published: 19th Dec, 2020


A United Kingdom’s court recent judgment concluding air pollution exposure as one of the major causes of death of a nine-year-old girl may serve as a wake-up call for India to deal with its own high levels of pollution.


What is the case?

  • Ella, born on January 24, 2004 in Lewisham in south eastern, London, suffered from hypersecretory asthma, wherein a large quantity of mucus is secreted leading to blockage of intrapulmonary airways.
    • The quantity and quality of the mucus is also different than routine chest infections.
    • This led to frequent episodes of respiratory and cardiac distress, which required frequent visits to the emergency room.
  • During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013, she was exposed to excessive high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM), primarily from traffic emissions.

How this ruling can set precedent for India?

  • In India, long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths, across all age groups, from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases.
  • In India, 24 percent of infant deaths can be attributed to air pollution.
  • Out of a global tally of 6.67 million particulate matter (PM) 2.5-attributable deaths, 980,000 were recorded in India.
  • Air Pollution was the fourth leading risk factor for early death worldwide in 2019, surpassed only by high blood pressure, tobacco use and poor diet.

Where does Indian court stand?

  • The courts in India have been very proactive in taking cognisanceof the severe health risks of air pollution and have often pushed for “immediate solutions” towards this public health crisis.
  • They have frequently cited Article 21 of Indian Constitution; Right to Life, which extends to the right to a pollution-free environment.
  • With the UK judgement as a precedent, India can perhaps follow suit. 

How listing air pollution as a cause of death will help?

  • Despite air pollution being declared a public health emergency and its links with increased risks of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), very rarely is it listed as a specific cause of death.
  • Hypertension, cardiac arrests, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the usual listed causes.
  • Listing air pollution as a cause of death would perhaps be a non-cognisable offense, it will certainly help spread awareness among the public regarding the ills of air pollution and galvanize towards faster and decisive steps in curbing it. 

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