Clean Air Can’t Wait
It’s about one child.
The fight for clean air is about the pain a parent feels when a child can’t breathe and there seems nothing they can do to help. A child who is gasping for air, coughing, struggling to inhale. One child.
This is the message that came out of the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution on 2 October in Westminster.
L-R: Ben Webster (Environment Editor, The Times), Gary Fuller (Kings College, author of Invisible Killer), Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Geraint Davies MP, Baroness Bryony Worthington, Simon Birkett (Clean Air London).
This is the message that Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah came to tell MPs, academics, and business people who had gathered to discuss the four new Clean Air Acts that had been presented in Parliament earlier that day.
This is her story. Mrs. Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is the mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a cheerful nine-year-old whose death was the first in the United Kingdom attributed to air pollution.
Academics supplied powerful statistics to support the need for immediate action. Gary Fuller of King’s College rhetorically asked, ‘What action would the public demand if 9,000 people died in a year from the water they drink in their homes?’ Yet every year, 9,000 people die from the air they breathe inside and hardly a person knows their air could be unsafe. Every year, 64,000 people die from the air they breathe outside, yet legislation to force change is slow because it might be expensive or inconvenient.
What inconvenience… what price do we put on a life?
The four Clean Air Acts - Private Members’ Bills - are all positive steps and praiseworthy documents. Two, by Geraint Davies MP and Baroness Jones, include language regarding indoor air quality (IAQ). This is gratifying progress considering two years ago when Mr. Davies’ bill was first presented, it had no reference to IAQ at all. We are making important strides.
But the likelihood is that none of these bills will be made law.
We can, however, hope that their provisions are included as amendments to the Government’s Environment Bill, which is expected to be part of the upcoming Queen’s Speech and considered in the House the first part of next year.
Next year. And, at best, six months after passage for regulations to take effect. Will that be too long for a child who lives on a busy road? Or a child whose family doesn’t know that the products in their homes - air fresheners, cleaners, toiletries, furnishings - all can cause asthma attacks?
And it’s not just those families who may need more information. The passionate and articulate Baroness Bryony Worthington of the Environmental Defense Fund is a force of nature fighting for clean air, but at the meeting, when asked about the fact her bill does not mention IAQ, she claimed cleaning the air outside would solve the problem of indoor air quality.
Unfortunately, that isn’t true. There are other issues - mould, cold and volatile organic compounds - that are prevalent indoor asthma triggers that won’t be alleviated by cleaning outdoor air and children spend at least 70% of their time at home. Hopefully Baroness Worthington will broaden her attention and apply her extraordinary energy to solving air pollution holistically.
A right and a responsibility for clean air.
One MP wondered why Members are calling for a ban on diesel and petrol cars in 2030? What was special about that date, beyond its potential feasibility? Mrs. Adoo-Kissi-Debrah took him to task. She claimed 2030 is too late. By 2030, at least 500 more children would die. We need action today. We all need to think about what we can do differently today to make our air cleaner.
Because we can all do something. We can’t make our neighbour sell their diesel car or the local factory stop operating, but we can make sure our home is a safe haven from what we breathe outside. We can think about our own behaviour and make better decisions for our health and our planet.
Because it’s about our children. That one child who needs to take a deep breath. That child who needs to keep on breathing.
And every child who needs clean air to breathe today.