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Sat Oct 31, 2020, 10:21 PM

'Clean Air Started Here': Sonora, PA Smog Disaster, Halloween 1948 Inspired Environmental Protection

- Photo taken at noon, daytime. The Donora Smog of 1948 began on October 27 & lasted until October 31, when rain cleared the combined smoke, fog & pollution that had become trapped over the town.

- 'The Donora Smog Revisited' 70 Years After The Event Inspired the Clean Air Act, NCBI, Am J Public Health. 4/2018.

At a storefront museum approximately 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a sign reads, “Clean Air Started Here.” This is not hyperbole. At the end of October 1948, the communities of Donora and Webster in Pennsylvania were visited by a smog that changed the face of environmental protection in the United States. Conservative estimates showed that 20 individuals died, while an additional 5900—43% of the population of Donora—were affected by the smog. This event led to the first large-scale epidemiological investigation of an environmental health disaster in the United States.

Questions remain about the long-term effects of the smog, because higher rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer than were expected were observed in the region in the decade following the smog.. Seventy years after the smog, this event still resonates.


As residents of a township that relied on two major industrial plants for their livelihood, the citizens of Donora were no strangers to heavy pollution from the American Steel and Wire plant and the Donora Zinc Works. At the time, smoke in the air was often considered to be a sign of progress and prosperity, whereas clear skies meant economic depression and unemployment.6 However, the smog that occurred in October 1948 was exceptional even by the standards of the region.
At first, to the residents of Donora, the conditions did not appear to be markedly unusual. The smog did not stop the annual Halloween parade from going forward on October 29, when children displayed their costumes as they walked down Main Street..

As conditions worsened, telephones at the offices of the town’s eight doctors began to ring, with reports of respiratory distress becoming widespread.

The first responders of Donora, which included an ambulance and a firetruck, began to answer calls. Because of the darkness, these emergency vehicles had to be guided by a man walking in front with a flashlight. When this procedure later became impossible, firemen began going door-to-door to provide oxygen to Donora residents. Doctors warned those with chronic health conditions to evacuate, but as the fog grew more dense, the roads became impossible to traverse. At approximately 2:00 am on Saturday, October 30, the first death occurred, and within 12 hours, 17 citizens of Donora and Webster were dead. Physicians, firefighters, and other first responders did not stop visiting the homes of the sick for days.

When it was over, 20 had died within Donora and Webster, with an additional 1440 affected by serious illness and another 4470 individuals who had mild or moderate symptoms, totaling nearly half of the working class population of Donora.

Immediately afterward, much wrangling and debate commenced regarding who could be trusted to objectively investigate this public health crisis, until requests from borough leaders in Donora, the United Steelworkers Union, the state of Pennsylvania, and American Steel and Wire itself, convinced the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) to investigate the smog. The first large-scale epidemiological study of an environmental health disaster ever conducted in the United States then began...


- 'The Deadly Donora Smog of 1948 Spurred Environmental Protection—But Have We Forgotten the Lesson? Smithsonian

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Reply 'Clean Air Started Here': Sonora, PA Smog Disaster, Halloween 1948 Inspired Environmental Protection (Original post)
appalachiablue Oct 2020 OP
PoindexterOglethorpe Oct 2020 #1
appalachiablue Oct 2020 #2
PoindexterOglethorpe Oct 2020 #3
packman Nov 2020 #4

Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Sat Oct 31, 2020, 10:28 PM

1. I have a friend who grew up in Greensburg, PA,

outside of Pittsburgh. Recently he told me of going into the city of Pittsburgh with his mother when he was perhaps five or seven years old -- so this would have been 1953-1955 or so -- and thinking that it was always night time in Pittsburgh. That's how polluted it was, and how dark the skies were.

I used to read old Life Magazines, and I recall an issue in the late 1930's (it started in November, 1936 and I cannot recall with certaintly when this article appeared) that showed the pollution and dark skies in the middle of the day somewhere in the Midwest. That's what factories produced back then. For far too long people simply accepted that as the normal and acceptable outcome of "progress".

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Response to PoindexterOglethorpe (Reply #1)

Sat Oct 31, 2020, 10:39 PM

2. How good we've had it, an awful era. Industry pollution

is controlled much better, but we are seeing GOP many rollbacks that will have to reversed, soon.

Two of my closest friends grew up in Pgh, but a bit later so they didn't experience the very dark days before controls.

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Response to appalachiablue (Reply #2)

Sat Oct 31, 2020, 11:36 PM

3. Right.

They have already rolled back a lot of environmental protections, and it hasn't yet been long enough to impact anything. If Biden can't reverse those, we will see a lot of degradation in the next four years. Totally unnecessary degradation.

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Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Sun Nov 1, 2020, 09:25 AM

4. My old stomping grounds

"D"onora, Webster and all those small boroughs and townships below Pittsburgh. Jobs more important than health and industries took advantage of that mind-set. I remember my mother hanging out laundry in the back-yard and complaining that the sheets had that coal smell and grime still on them. People also had two cars, one old beat up to drive to the mill and the other they kept in the garage so it wouldn't get that corrosive shit on it.

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