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Information on local air quality around the UK is far too difficult for the public to find, a government committee has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee said the steps being taken by central and local government to address persistent breaches of legal air pollution limits were not sufficient.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, cited the case of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south London, who was just nine years old when she died of an asthma attack in February 2013, having suffered dozens of acute seizures in the three years prior.

In a landmark decision in 2020 – following years of campaigning by Ella’s mother – a coroner ruled that dangerous exposure to air pollution had “made a material contribution” to her death.

Dame Hillier said: “A coroner who found air pollution was material in the death of a little girl who lived near London’s South Circular Road called for legal limits to be lowered, saying there is ‘no safe level of particulate matter’ in the air.

“But current legal limits are regularly being exceeded and the public are not getting enough information about these dangerous breaches to adapt their behaviour in order to protect their health.

“The government doesn’t actually know how much public money is being spent addressing air quality across all departments – which does not suggest the integrated approach necessary to tackle this potentially deadly issue.”

Poor air quality can cause significant damage to people’s health and harms the environment, but progress to address illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in 64 local authorities is slow, the committee said.

Tackling local air quality issues requires local and national government to work together, but “central government has not always got the balance right”, being “prescriptive in some respects while seeming to avoid responsibilities that naturally sit at a national level in others”, it added.

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