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My bad air day: Utah doc: More illness, depression in inversions
Health » Family physician wonders how living in the Salt Lake Valley impacts his patients’ health.
First Published Jan 27 2014 07:02 am • Last Updated Jan 27 2014 11:31 am

The Salt Lake Tribune invited Utahns to share their stories of how Utah’s polluted air affects their lives.

Here are some of those "My Bad Air Day" stories, with some minor editing.

At a glance

About this series

This is part of an occasional series of stories examining Utah’s air quality through the monitoring station collecting data at Hawthorne Elementary School, at 1675 South 600 East Salt Lake City, and the surrounding community.

The air at Hawthorne Elementary is much the same as the rest of Utah’s urban valleys — but the school is the focus of some of the most crucial air monitoring research in the state. Read a previous story about that monitoring here.

Share the story of your bad air day

How does poor air quality affect you? The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED Channel 7 want to hear your bad-air-day stories — whether written or video-recorded.

Send stories to utairquality@sltrib.com with “My Bad Air Day” in the subject line, or share them at facebook.com/saltlaketribune.

Share video stories on Tout at tout.com/sltrib or at #mybadairday on Instagram. The Tribune and KUED will share your stories as part of our ongoing air-quality coverage.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Please, continue to share by sending more observations to utairquality@sltrib.com.

You also may send questions you’d like to have addressed at The Tribune/KCPW air quality town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

‘Action must be taken.’

Tim Beardmore, Salt Lake City

I am a 26-year-old engineer, and my wife is a 27-year-old research associate. We moved to Salt Lake City for better quality of life. We are both very active and enjoy the outdoors. We are currently looking to change our jobs to move away from SLC due to the poor air quality.

What is the point of eating well and exercising if one is breathing in carcinogenic substances all day long?

Action must be taken by our local government to fix this. My thoughts are that this will not happen until it is too late. I believe many more professionals like my wife and I will leave Salt Lake due to this persistent problem.

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‘I start to see more people struggling’

Physician Jason Hamula, Salt Lake City

My bad air day starts often the night before when I lay out my clothes for the next day’s work. I usually ride my bike to work and I like to check the weather in order to know how many layers I might need to wear. During inversions the weather doesn’t fluctuate much so I usually already know it’s going to be cold. I have a short commute so it’s not a big deal to just throw another layer on if necessary. But increasingly I’m having to also consider the next day’s air quality in order to decide whether even to ride at all or to take the bus.

I’m well aware of the health effects of particulates — I see it a lot this time of year in my practice as a family physician. I’ve been in practice in the Salt Lake Valley for almost 15 years, and there are regular patterns to what affects people’s health throughout the year. Accidents and injuries are common during the summer months when people are more active, for example. Shortly after the weather cools and the holidays begin, the respiratory infections and flus start to show up and continue through the winter months.

When the inversions come, I see many more irritant-related lung and sinus problems like asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema exacerbations. The longer the inversions remain, I start to see more people struggling with depression. One patient I saw last week came in with asthma problems despite taking her medications as she’s supposed to. She tries to avoid the outdoors when the inversions settle in. She grew up in Hawaii and says that she would always have the same problems when the winds from neighboring islands would carry volcano ash toward where she lived.

As more and more evidence reveals other health conditions potentially linked to unhealthy air, I often ask myself whether the young child I see with autism, or the father who’s had a heart attack recently, or the elderly woman who’s never smoked but developed lung cancer, might have resulted from living in this valley. And if I think longer about it, I start to ask myself whether I might have contributed to their problems by living and driving in this valley. My occupation and life work is centered in helping others get and stay healthy, so even that very small possibility is hard for me to think too long about.

That in no small part has played a role in my decision to bicycle to work, plus the personal benefits of being more physically active. But increasingly I ask myself whether those benefits of riding my bike to work outweigh the health risks I take on by riding through and breathing in the muck. Or whether living so close to the mountains I love to spend time in is worth the two years of diminished lifespan that’s estimated to result of my living so close to them, especially when for so many weeks of the year I can’t even see them.

When I was a boy, my father made the hard decision to move us from the Los Angeles basin where he had a well-established and successful business, here to Utah. He always said it was because of the better quality of life here, including air quality. It’s curious to me and somewhat depressing to think that if the air here doesn’t improve, that I might need to make what would be a similarly difficult decision for the best interests of my family. It’s getting that bad.

‘I begin to breathe with an irritating wheeze’

Next Page >

Air-quality town hall Wednesday

The Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce will moderate a town-hall discussion on Utah’s air quality challenges with a panel of experts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South.

The discussion will be broadcast live on KCPW 88.3/105.3 FM and at sltrib.com. You can submit questions in advance by sending an email to utairquality@sltrib.com.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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