Answers Demanded in Firing of CU Air Quality Researcher

There has been a public outcry about the firing from CU of Detlev Helmig, a researcher who had been studying air quality in the Front Range, focusing on emissions from oil and gas operations.

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Dr. Helmig was an Associate Research Professor and Research Scientist at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research (INSTAAR) at CU.

Joe Salazar, a former state representative who works now with Colorado Rising, is representing Dr. Helmig through his private law practice. CU initially said that Dr. Helmig was fired for not separating his university work from that of research being done through his private company. Salazar says that the university has known for at least two years that Helmig has his own company and were okay with that.

All the paperwork was filed correctly to advise the university that he has his own venture. In fact, many of the professors at the University of Colorado have their own ventures, and even CU’s policy encourages professors to have their own ventures, their own businesses, and to engage with community and things of that nature. And so they said, well, you know, you’re misusing equipment, but there are even emails, there were Detlev is like, look, I want to either rent or buy the equipment and the university saying, okay, you can either rent or buy it. And now they turn around after Detlev has been renting and buying the equipment, they turned around and make this allegation that he was misusing the equipment. So we actually don’t know what the real story is from the university.”

Salazar has submitted a records request to the university, for documents pertaining to the termination. He says he is concerned that Western Wire was the first news organization that reported Dr. Helmig’s termination.

Detlev Helmig, State Senator Mike Foote, Joe Salazar speak at an event on air quality in Longmont, January 2020. (Photo credit Maeve Conran)

“It should be a very serious concern for everyone that the very first media outlet that the university turned to in order to crow about Detlev’s termination is the Western Wire, which is an industry-funded media group. I think that that’s extremely telling. And also the university is famously known for keeping personnel matters away from the press. In fact, when the press asks questions about personnel matters, the university pivots and says “this is a personnel matter, we can’t talk about it.” But then they turn around and openly target Detlev and talk to this industry-funded media group in order to basically defame him and to hurt his reputation.”

Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones and Steve Fenberg, the Colorado Senate majority leader wrote a guest opinion in the Daily Camera saying that they stand by Dr. Helmig and his work, and hope that his critical research into our region’s air quality challenges can continue.

Dr. Helmig and his company, Boulder A.I.R., (Atmosphere Innovation Research) are contracted with the City of Longmont to collect and analyze data from sampling and analyzing atmospheric emissions from oil and gas operations near the city. Salazar says that Helmig’s research work will continue in the Front Range and that the data already collected is the property of the municipalities and not the university.

“So that is owned by those municipalities. It’s not owned by the University of Colorado. And so that remains safe, from what we know, that data remains safe.”

Salazar says the University of Colorado has failed thus far to fulfill the open records request and he is preparing to take legal action if the documents are not made available soon.

“I can file in the district court and force CU to respond to the court as to why they haven’t fulfilled the request.”

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