When Smog Kills - Museum Opened To Commemorate 1948 Disaster

Sixty years after twenty people died from air pollution spewing from a steel and zinc mill in Donora, PA (just outside Pittsburgh) in perhaps the worst air quality tragedy in the U.S., a museum has opened to commemorate and learn from the tragedy.

The smog from the two mills rolled in Oct. 27, 1948, and didn't lift until it rained on Oct. 31. By then, "20 people in Donora had died, and nearly half the town became ill in one of the worst air pollution disasters in the nation's history."

"Over the last two weeks, (Donora residents) marked the 60th anniversary with memorials for the families of those who died".

"We want people to realize Donora was a big part of the environmental movement," said Don Pavelko, a Donora councilman who came up with idea for the museum.

"Smog was not unusual in Donora, a town of 14,000 then that was home to the American Steel & Wire Company and the Donora Zinc Works plants - both run by the United States Steel Company - that sat along the river and employed 5,000 people.

But this was different. The thick, yellowish, acrid smog was the result of an unusual weather inversion - a pocket of warm, stagnant air - that sat over the valley for five days.

Underneath what was essentially a lid on the valley were sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide and other poisonous gases, including fluorine, that would normally rise into the atmosphere. Most researchers blame the zinc plant..."

Full Story: Unveiling a Museum, a Pennsylvania Town Remembers the Smog That Killed 20

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Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Book review: "When smoke ran like water"

The Donora disaster may be one of the worst air pollution events in the U.S., but hardly the world. A mere 50 years ago, 12,000 Londoners died from a killer smog.

The author of When Smoke Ran Like Water, Devra Davis, a world-renowned epidemiologist, is quoted in the NYT article.

In this Green Guide review, it is called "simply the best book on the environment since Silent Spring."

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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