Anniversary of Killer Smog Event That Sparked US Clean Air Movement Commemorated in Pennsylvania Museum


British air pollution advice video from 1947

Just as a reminder that the type of persistent and deadly air pollution that currently plagues many places in China once happened elsewhere as well (one which I hope most TreeHugger readers don’t need...), I’d like to point your attention in the direction of a New York Times article which ran yesterday.

The Donora Killer Smog
It’s about a small museum, operating out of a former Chinese restaurant (don’t know if that was intentional or if it was just the space available...) in Donora, Pennsylvania, which comemorates and documents events which took place at the end of October, 1948. From October 27-31 of that year an air inversion caused emissions from US Steel’s Donora Zinc Works and the American Steel & Wire Plant to stagnate over the town, killing 20 people and causing nearly half of the town to become sick; some 800 animals died as well.

The NYT quotes Joann Crow, who was 12 at the time, on what the killer air pollution was like:Had to Walk to School Using a Flashlight

Dad couldn’t drive us to school because it was so hard to see. He had to walk us to school that Wednesday with a flashlight, which we thought was fun.

Crow’s grandmother became ill the next day, and died on the 29th.

That’s when we all got worried. They tried to blame it on asthma. But we knew that wasn’t true. She was always so strong. It was that smog from the mills.

US Steel Settled, Never Admitted Responsibility
It was rain which arrived on the 31st which removed the air inversion and allowed the pollution to disperse. Though US Steel eventually settled lawsuits filed against it for $250,000, it never admitted responsibility for the deadly smog.

Many credit the Donora killer smog incident as helping start the clean air movement in the United States, which brought about the Clean Air Act in 1970.

For those interested in visiting the museum (which doesn’t seem to have a website yet), it is located at 595 McKean Avenue (near Sixth Street) in Donora, Pennsylvania.

More description of the event from: The New York Times; The Weather Channel and Scott Beverage.

China May Not Be Able to Grow Out of the Problem
Just one final thing: It may be tempting to think that China, like the US, the UK and the rest of the developed world can grow its way out of polluting, but that may be far more difficult now than it was half a century ago.

The scale of human activity, the level of natural resource consumption (both because of increased human population and increased expectation of material comfort), is so much higher now, that China’s economy, and that of other developing nations as well, could easily become constrained by environmental factors before they can turn to cleaning up their environment, as happened elsewhere.

Air Pollution, Clean Air Act
Pollution Estimated to Cause 750,000 Premature Deaths Each Year in China
A Picture is Worth... Air Pollution in China
Why the Next President Should Use the Clean Air Act to Administer a National Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program
The Gettysburg of US Climate Action: Clean Air Act Could/Could Not Be Use to Cost-Effectively Regulate Greenhouse Gases?

Tags: Air Pollution | Exhibits | Pollution | United States

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