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Asthma death from air pollution?

A London court is to decide whether the asthma death of a 9-year-old is directly attributable to excessive air pollution. The case could become a precedent with huge implications for environmental zones and driving bans.

In 2013, the 9-year-old girl had died of acute respiratory failure after increasingly severe asthma attacks. A court ordered a further investigation in 2014 to determine the extent to which the air pollution at her home, a busy London junction, contributed to or even directly caused her death. The nitrogen oxide limits had been exceeded there for years, as in most other areas of London.

It has now been proven that bad air can cause asthma and bronchitis, but also cardiovascular disease and mental disorders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 4.5 million people die each year as a result of air pollution. In the EU, the figure is around 400,000 people. However, since breathing bad air can have a wide range of effects over the years, but at the same time pre-existing conditions, lifestyle and other environmental factors also play a role, it is difficult to link death directly to, for example, excessive concentrations of particulate matter or nitrogen oxide. For example, no death in court has ever been directly attributed to air pollution.

In other parts of Europe, too, there are already complaints against the state and excessive air pollution. In the Arve Valley in France, at the foot of Mount Blanc, for example, 9 families have filed complaints against the high levels of air pollution. However, the court ruled that although the state was responsible for the air pollution, there was no link to increased asthma in the region.

So if the British state was to blame for the death of the girl, the London case would become a precedent that would put enormous pressure on cities and local authorities to reduce air pollution. Further claims for damages, including in other countries, would then be likely. This would probably lead to an extension of driving bans and environmental zones in many areas of Europe.