My name is Eric, and I was born and raised south of Denver in Arapahoe county. I was diagnosed with asthma as a child, but it has generally been well controlled for most of my life. I left Colorado to attend university and later while pursuing a master's degree in physics, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being so far away from her and the rest of my family during that time was incredibly difficult. The inability to comfort someone you love so much because of distance is a heartbreaking experience.
So, when I decided to pursue a PhD I chose the Colorado School of Mines in Golden in large part so that I could be nearer to family. Since moving to Golden, I have experienced my asthma deteriorate dramatically. At first I, in addition to my asthma doctor, was at a loss as to what could be causing this deterioration. It was only when I began paying attention the daily air quality index (AQI) through the EPA website that I noticed a high correlation between the severity of my asthma symptoms, coughing, shortness of breath, airway irritation, headaches and an increased heart rate, and degraded AQIs on a day-to-day basis.
Oftentimes, even an AQI in the "moderate" zone is enough to trigger these symptoms. As a runner, skier, cyclist and climber, the degraded quality of air in the Denver metro area is frustrating, to say the least, but even worse is the inability some days to sleep well or concentrate on work as a result. This experience has culminated in a desire to leave the Denver area again just to be able to breathe clean air. But this would be a horrible decision to make: Colorado is my home, and the people I love are still here.
Before I moved back to Colorado, it had been my impression that air pollution had been categorically improving in the state. I now understand that population growth, our over-reliance on fossil fuel-based vehicles and the seemingly unstoppable and poorly-regulated extraction of oil and gas along the front range are making this fact increasingly less true. It makes me sad and angry to think how many other residents on the front range might struggle with decisions and circumstances similar to mine while Colorado's lawmakers have for so long prioritized economic development and growth to the detriment of such an essential human necessity as clean air.
First published: May 4, 2020