South London teenagers campaign for new clean air laws

A group of south London teenagers, including a classmate of a girl who died as a result of air pollution, have come together to demand government legislation on air quality.

Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, Anjali Raman-Middleton, Destiny Boka-Batesa and Kaydine Rogers are co-founders of the Choked Up campaign.

The sixth form students describe themselves as “a group of brown and black teenagers who want the right to breathe and clean air to be law”.  

Raman-Middleton was a classmate of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died in 2013 after an asthma attack at just nine-years-old.  

She was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death, alongside respiratory failure and severe asthma.  

The group met through the Advocacy Academy, a charity in Brixton that helps young people launch campaigns to make the change they want to see in the world. 

Brauer-Maxaeia, 17, said: “Ella lived down the road from where I live, and it felt very close to home. 

“Her death felt very personal and we all know someone who has asthma, so we knew we had to make a change.”

THE FIGHT FOR CLEAN AIR: Campaigner Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia Credit: Advocacy Academy

Air pollution exposure contributes to the premature deaths of 36,000 people in the UK every year, but this statistic does not fall equally across communities. 

Within London, many areas with high percentages of Black residents also have dangerously high levels of pollution.

Lambeth, a borough with 17.44% Black residents recorded highs of 75 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre, one of the highest levels in the capital.

Brauer-Maxaeia said: “I live in Lewisham and we are all from ethnically diverse areas in south London. 

 “A lot of research has been uncovered in the last few years that highlights the high level of air pollution in deprived areas. 

“Those from Black and ethnic minority communities are more likely to suffer from the harmful effects of air pollution.” 

Kissi-Debrah lived 25 metres from South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads. 

New research by the Environmental Defence Fund Europe highlights that major roads are responsible for major health impacts in London, with people near these roads breathing levels of Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that are 57% higher and fine particular matter (PM2.5) that are 35% higher than an average road in London. 

Brauer-Maxaeia said: “There’s a strong correlation between housing and socio-economic backgrounds and where you end up living in relation to a busy road or somewhere with bad air quality.

“I think that a lot of people who live in areas with poor air quality often don’t have the choice to leave these areas financially.

“So, if you’re exposed to bad air quality it’s often the case that you will be stuck there.”

Research conducted at the University of York reveals that London areas with highest average of N02 concentration rates, also have higher rates of deprivation in terms of crime, unemployment, income and living environment.

Dr Jo Barnes, senior research fellow at the Air Quality Management Resource Centre said in a statement: “People living in deprived areas are already more likely to have pre-existing health conditions because of their circumstances, such as living in damp conditions or working in a hard–labour job.

“If you put air pollution on top of that, it’s exacerbating the health impacts that they are already facing.”

Brauer-Maxaeia added: “The quality of air is not really something we can control. We have no choice in the air we breathe.

“You can’t see dirty air, but one of the main ways we have experienced the effects of pollution in our areas is just through the number of people and family members we know that have asthma, and it gets particularly worse when the air quality is bad.”

For Brauer-Maxaeia and the other activists, there are a lot of changes they hope to make. 

Despite not being of voting age, the group hope to influence those who can. 

Brauer-Maxaeia said: “One of our main messages is that we want the Government to take air quality more seriously with effective legislation. 

“In south London particularly, air quality targets set out by the WHO (World Health Organization) are regularly exceeded. 

“We would also like deprived communities and communities of colour to be recognised, taken seriously and most of all protected when it comes to air quality.

“In the upcoming London Mayoral Elections in May, it’s important to engage and make sure you’re endorsing a candidate who has strong air quality policies. 

“Also when voting in the future, make sure air quality is an important factor for the candidate you vote for.” 

Introducing Choked Up. Credit: Toby Lloyd

Featured image credit: @ChokedUp Twitter

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