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  • June 2010
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When Smoke Ran Like Water

Donora at noon, Oct. 29, 1948.

Everyone knows about the oil well in the gulf, but few people know about the worst air pollution disaster in the US. It happened just down the river from us—about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh—in Donora, PA. Just before Halloween in 1948, an inversion descended on the Donora Valley, where many people lived in the shadow of the US Steel Zinc Works.

An inversion is a weather event that occurs when warm air settles on top of cooler air, creating a situation where the cooler air and any pollutants it contains remain trapped. This process is also a major factor in the smog around Los Angeles, CA.

The inversion trapped the polluted factory air (often called the “Donora Death Fog”) in the valley for six days. By the time the weather changed, 20 people were dead, and hundreds more were dying or seriously injured from a toxic mix of sulfur dioxide, fluoride, carbon dioxide, and metal dust.

Check out When Smoke Ran Like Water to learn the story behind the killer fog:

And these fascinating tales of environmental disaster and deception:


Sara Dora, CLP-Hazelwood

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