I have experienced respiratory issues – asthma, eczema, and allergies – since I was a child. While never hospitalized, I have distinct memories of regularly being driven across town to my pediatrician’s office in the middle of the night so he could help manage my symptoms through medications or other means.
Growing up in the South, allergy season was hard on me, but autumn was especially bad since leaf burning was common and prevalent at that time of year. The smoke put me in respiratory crisis. As a young adult, like many asthmatics, I moved out west, to Colorado, in search of cleaner air. This move helped a good deal, as did my healthy lifestyle.
While I felt better equipped to help manage my kids’ asthma, I was not prepared for the fear and heartache of watching my youngest child spend one week in the hospital, intubated for five days, for respiratory issues. It was probably not a coincidence that ozone pollution was getting worse in Colorado at that time. Motivated once again by a desire to find cleaner air, and live close to nature and healthy forests, we moved to Western Montana.
I had high hopes for our move to such a heavily forested area, which felt like living in a place where the planet does a lot of its breathing. But now, as climate change takes hold and brings hotter temperatures and less rain to our region, the smoke during wildfire season has become consistently horrible.
While I am a healthy person and live a very healthy lifestyle, my respiratory issues mean I am the proverbial canary in the coal mine during Montana’s lengthening fire season. For weeks – sometimes months – every year, wildfire smoke deeply impacts my life and robs me of time I would otherwise spend participating in the activities I love and for which I moved to Montana. I believe science and research are key. All of us (individuals and government officials alike) must heed the warnings of the scientific community and support research to guide us forward and protect our health.
First published: June 19, 2019