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Air pollution officially to blame for girl's death

The death of a London girl was caused by excessive air pollution. This legal decision could be groundbreaking for transport policy in the UK and Europe.

A London court has ruled that the death of a 9-year-old girl was caused by excessive air pollution. As previously reported, the girl lived with her family in the south of the British capital near a busy intersection where air pollution levels were above the limits set by the EU. The coroner's inquest now found that the excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide to which the girl had been exposed had contributed significantly to her death. The decision means that air pollution is now officially partly to blame for a person's death for the first time.

The plaintiffs' lawyers had also pointed to the failure of the authorities. After measurements of the poor air quality, an action plan was not drawn up until three years later, and this was not adopted until another four years later. The authorities were also accused of failing to provide information about the potential consequences of air pollution in the proceedings.

The landmark ruling could have dramatic consequences for the British state, as more and more people could now sue against excessive air pollution. The British Lung Foundation and the Asthma UK association hope the ruling will lead to a rethink of policy on the deadly effects of air pollution. The Mayor of London also acknowledged that the decision must become a turning point.

As reported yesterday, London's Low Emission Zone is set to be expanded over the coming year. The additional daily charge for drivers from outside the metropolis could also reduce traffic. More desirable, however, would be incentives to use public transport, to carpool and to switch more often to cycling and other climate-friendly means of transport. Instead, with the high fees and fines, the state seems to be focusing on deterrence instead of positive alternatives.

What the ruling means for environmental zones in Germany and Europe is not yet foreseeable. But it could lead to more people taking legal action against the high levels of air pollution in this country as well. More environmental zones and driving bans could then be the result.