Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The smog revisted
DONORA, Pa. – Over the years, Donora Mayor John Lignelli would cringe every time a historian, filmmaker or student called him to discuss the borough's infamous killer smog.
"Let it die," Lignelli said, repeating the phrase he used when people asked about the event that killed at least 19 people in October 1948 and became known as the nation's worst air pollution disaster.
But as the smog approaches its 60th anniversary next year, he said, it's time that Donora recognizes the importance of keeping the story alive.
"That is history right now. That's why there is so much interest in it," he said, while discussing plans to mark the anniversary with some kind of ceremony.
The smog was blamed on stagnant air that hovered over the region for several days, trapping U.S. Steel smokestack emissions in the Monongahela River valley.
The smoke grew so thick over that Halloween weekend that hospitals became crowded with the thousands of people who became sick. Others died while gasping for air in what became the impetus for the first national clean air legislation of the 1960s.
Dr. Charles Stacey, a retired Ringgold School District superintendent, said he would like to hold a scientific seminar in Donora to discuss the effects the pollution had on health and the reasons for the smog.
"I think it could be a good thing," Stacey said Wednesday.
About 30 people from Donora and Webster, including Donora Councilman Don Pavelko, met two weeks ago to discuss the anniversary. The organizers were also soliciting interest in creating a clean air museum in Donora, Stacey said.
Stacey said he would like to invite Devra Davis, an author and environmentalist who was raised in Donora, to speak at the seminar. He also wants to videotape oral histories of local residents who survived the smog.
"I think they could do a good thing here if they get it together," Stacey said.
(Caption: The U.S. Steel zinc works in a photo taken in Webster circa 1940)