Beyond Covid-19: Air Quality

In early May, Southwark and Lambeth Green Parties welcomed two speakers to the second event in its 'lockdown' speaker programme, Beyond Covid-19.

The topic: Air Quality 

The speakers: Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and Diana Varaden.


Rosamund is a health campaigner and World Health Organisation Public Advocate. She set up The Ella Roberta Family Foundation following the death of her daughter Ella in 2013 from a rare and severe form of asthma exacerbated by London’s toxic air. The foundation aims to improve the lives of children affected by asthma in South East London by raising awareness, campaigning for better treatment and for clean air.

Diana Varaden is a researcher at King’s College who specialises in engaging diverse community groups in work on air pollution. Attendees benefited from their complementary contributions on the issue of Air Quality.

Rosamund spoke about ‘the other public health emergency’: the invisible killer in the air we breathe that contributes to 40,000 deaths per year in the UK and seven million deaths globally. The coronavirus lockdown has given glimpses of how much cleaner our air can be, but as lockdown starts to be lifted and people return to their cars, we see the problems with air pollution are far from resolved. Meanwhile we add Covid-19 to the long list of health inequalities that disproportionately impact BAME communities.

Diana presented the results of the Breathe London Wearables Study in which primary school children monitored air pollution in London via specially designed rucksacks.  With many positive outcomes in the study including boosting awareness by participants of air pollution Diana also shared the challenge of raising awareness of an invisible harm comparing it to an issue such as road safety:

Visible   Invisible
Make choices to avoid it   Impossible to avoid
Education from early age   Little / no education
Regulation, laws and legislation   Very little legislation

There is a full report on the study here


Discussions moved beyond traffic pollution, touching on indoor pollution, wood burners and local campaigns. Much information, many links and comments were shared during the event which we group here under these two headings:

Taking action

Want to know more?

Taking action

Answer the call for suggestions for healthier streets via this engagement initiative from Southwark Council

Join a local campaigning group:

Follow the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah via the press and the communication channels of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation and @rosamund_ElsFdn on twitter.


Want to know more?

Speakers and attendees shared these links during the event.

From the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:

NICE guidelines on indoor air quality:

In Beijing, photographers have compared views with high and low levels of air pollution:

A new study underway at Nottingham University assessing DNA differences in blood samples from frontline healthcare workers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The results could indicate if differences in the innate immune systems of BAME groups result in higher risk of developing severe COVID-19; report via this link.

A very readable book on air pollution: 'The Invisible Killer' by Gary Fuller. Available online from here  or your preferred bookshop.

Call by DEFRA for evidence of changes in air pollution emissions, concentrations and exposure during the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK

Latest news from DEFRA’s Air Quality Group here:

This is what Southwark Council says about Air Quality 


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