Death certificate cites air pollution

Death certificate cites air pollution
Image: Burnley tunnel, shortly before opening, Dec 2000. Image: Wikimedia Commons


Few people will have heard of Ella Kissi-Debrah. She was a nine year old girl from South London who died tragically 10 years ago. In a landmark case eventually finalised in 2020 Ella became the first person in the world to have air pollution cited as the cause of her death. She was the victim of pollution caused by vehicle exhausts. She died of acute respiratory failure, asthma and exposure to air pollution.

And she didn’t live in the plume from unfiltered road tunnel exhaust stacks. She wasn’t bathed in the output from perhaps the single largest concentration of unfiltered, imported, vehicle generated, carcinogenic material anywhere in the world. These are the four exhaust stacks in Rozelle. A distinction that the residents of the Balmain Peninsula and the adjoining suburbs could well do without.

Ella lived about 30 metres from a major London road. She wasn’t subjected to the deliberate harvesting, concentrating and release of toxic material at a rate far, far greater than the arbitrary permissible levels.

The mainstream media here are deaf to the concerns of thousands of Inner West residents, as are both of the major political parties. It appears that those of us who reside in the suburbs that surround White Bay are seen as acceptable and inevitable collateral damage.

But is there more than a hint of vindictiveness in the major’s refusal to filter? Is it because their constituents, en masse, have resoundingly rejected them both at the State level?

Is it just a coincidence that WestCONnex will annually drench those same residents with more than 200 metric tonnes of particulate matter, nitrous oxide (which forms nitric acid every time it rains), nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine diesel particles (< PM 2.5 – a proven carcinogen), which the WHO has demonstrated is responsible for at least eight forms of cancer?

The pollies are well aware that they are safe from any legal action by those of us who face a premature and preventable death, simply because they believe that we can’t and won’t be able to prove causality.

Artist's impression of the Rozelle Interchange smokestacks. Photo: Studio Chris Fox.
Artist’s impression of the Rozelle Interchange smokestacks. Photo: Studio Chris Fox.

The cancer cluster that will certainly develop in Rozelle and Lilyfield will dwarf the one that now exists in Earlwood. Those residents who live in the plume from the M5 East stack, a stack that releases around just fifteen lethal metric tonnes each and every year, are today dying an unnecessary and painful death, while the Health Department and the Environmental Protection Authority blithely sit on their hands.

The Burnley Road Tunnel fire in Melbourne and the Dispersal Report on the M5 East stack at Turrella which was commissioned by the RMS and provided by an independent body – Monash University in 1999 – demonstrate that we are being repeatedly lied to by those elected to serve and protect us.

The Burnley images clearly show that the plume doesn’t ‘rise up and harmlessly disperse into the atmosphere’; it just settles on the adjoining suburbs. Why are we are the only Western country that doesn’t filter tunnel exhausts? Is deliberately killing Australian citizens ‘world’s best practice’ ?


No, it is not. Not even close…

Peter Hehir is the Convenor of RAW; Rozelle Against WestConnex.

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