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Every Breath You Take
Utah’s air sends some to the hospital and others packing.
War stories, it seems, extend to the inversion.
Iraq veteran Andy Figorski, who works at the Veterans Administration, was having a hard time breathing this January. “I thought I was having a heart attack,” he says. He went to the VA’s ER, and they ran some tests. “It turned out to be lung inflammation due to the inversion. Don’t you love this place?”
The inversion hit close to home for Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. His children were having a hard time breathing, and his wife, who has asthma, told him, “every time she took a breath, it was like a 10-pound weight as she pushed her chest wall out.”
City Weekly asked readers to write in with any health concerns they had related to the inversion. Alexander Woodruff e-mailed that he had “respiratory issues through the winter months as well as multiple occurrences of illness,” which stopped him from enjoying outdoor activities. “I shouldn’t have to deal with the news telling me to try and not breathe outside if at all possible!”
Duane Vigil, a lifelong Utah resident, commutes to work by bike. In mid-March, he developed a respiratory infection that he believes came from the inversion. He tried fruit, Vitamin C boosters, teas—nothing worked. “The only thing that worked for me was a mask.”
Liz Mallen has 5-year-old twins. Shortly after their birth, both contracted a respiratory virus that, she believes, has made them sensitive to inversions. “As soon as the inversion gets bad … [one of my son’s] cough flares.” When the children went back to school, “all it took was one day back in the muck, and he was home for a week.”
Air pollution is not just an issue for lung-disease sufferers, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment President Brian Moench says. “It causes an unimaginable array of medical problems, lung disease, cancers, it interferes with the blood flow through the placenta and development of the embryo.” He says he knows that fetal demise occurs at higher rates during bad air periods. “I have seen a truckload of these during the inversion.”
While anecdotal, such stories perhaps help explain the Facebook group “I have moved or am moving out of Utah because the air quality is so crappy,” which has 200 members. Former residents and those contemplating moving posted in detail about their searches for out-of-state jobs, driven out by Utah’s bad air.
Jamie Leavitt “had to move out of Utah because I developed asthma, allergies, and persistent migraines all due to the poor air quality,” she writes. The high level of pollution “made life unbearable for me.” She moved to Los Angeles, near the beach, and found a life where none of the medical issues that had haunted her in Utah were present. “I miss my family, and the Wasatch front is so beautiful, but the massive amount of pollution meant a move so my dog and I could breathe (and sleep) better.”
Businesses also see the impact on recruitment of Salt Lake City’s infamous bad air. Several politicians recalled how Overstock.com’s president, Jonathan Johnson, testified before a legislative task force about bringing potential employees to the valley, only for them to witness the smog and turn down job offers.
In the face of so much activism, so much concern, Moench remains “more hopeful now than I’ve been since we started this,” he says. “Because the winter was bad enough, it appeared on the radar of more people and more key people than it ever has before. If we can maintain that momentum, I think things can change.”