By Chris Buckley
Twenty people died from Oct. 26 to 31, 1948, and more than 7,000 were hospitalized or became ill as the result of severe air pollution over Donora.
The investigation of this incident by state and federal health officials resulted in the first meaningful federal and state laws air pollution control laws.
Now the borough is planning to commemorate the 60th anniversary of that tragic event which played a part in improving air quality and led to the formation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The Charter for the Donora Smog Commemorative Committee was recently signed. The directors of the organization for the articles of incorporation are Don Pavelko, Anthony Massafra, Casey Perrotta, Diane Martin and DeAnne Pavelko.The committee, along with U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, have formally invited former Vice President Al Gore to attend the events being planned.
Gore along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Gore's documentary film on global warming "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Academy Award last year.
Devra Davis is expected to attend. Davis, an author and epidemiologist, wrote about the Donora smog in her book, "When Smoke Ran Like Water."
The group along with many committees is planning numerous events to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Donora Smog.
These events will take place in October. The tentative events planned thus far include:
n Oct. 20 -- Davis will be guest speaker at the Donora Borough Building.
n Oct. 23 and 24 -- Mon Valley Hospital will host free health screenings at Donora Borough Building.
n Oct. 25 -- 10 a.m., a football game between Donora and Monongahela will literally "kick-off" the weekend in the morning at Legion Field located behind Donora Elementary Center. This was the site where the rival teams played the original game during the height of the smog.
Noon -- Alumni luncheon after the game. All alumni members from both teams will be invited to an honorary luncheon in the Donora Elementary center school cafeteria.
3 p.m. -- Commemorative parade will follow a luncheon that will be held on McKean Avenue.
n Oct. 26 -- 3 p.m. A memorial service with an interfaith choir will be held at Our Lady of the Valley Church, St. Philip Neri site.
At 5 p.m. there will be a commemorative banquet at the Donora Borough Building.
n Oct. 27 - A scientific and economic symposium will be held.
The committee is also planning to take visitors back in time by placing canvas photographs of what the downtown buildings looked like during the smog alongside the current structures at those various locations.
In addition, for a two-week period beginning March 28, California University of Pennsylvania will videotape oral histories of area residents who were living in Donora in 1948.
A smog museum will be open to the public to share photos and other artifacts from the smog during this time. Planners are hoping to utilize the former library building, located at Seventh Street and McKean Avenue, for the museum.
The goal is to have artifacts from the smog days as well as the oral presentations on display, DeAnn Pavelko said.
"I want people to be more educated on what occurred here," she said.
The committee would also like to eventually see the opening of a clean air museum and research facility in Donora, the birth town of the federal Environmental Protection Agency
The planned programs are being funded in part by grants of $5,000 from California University and $10,000 from Washington County Tourism. The money will be used to fund the museum development as well as publicity and the parade.