Planning committees forming to mark Smog's anniversary

By Emma Jene Lelik
For The Valley Independent
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Clean air started in Donora - and all because of bad air.

A committee of townsfolk, led by Donora Councilman Donald Pavelko, is making plans to commemorate those who died, or became ill, because of the deadly smog of 1948 - which also eventually resulted in clean air legislation.

Next October will be the 60th anniversary of the Donora Smog, and Pavelko hopes for a Valley-wide observance because many folks in adjoining communities also were affected by the smog.

Because the smog occurred during the week the annual Halloween parade was held, it is hoped the anniversary parade next year will include regional high school bands, fire and police units, bagpipes, veterans groups - and even Clydesdale horses.

A "Smog Museum" is a possibility and there will be T-shirts heralding the event.

DeAnne Pavelko plans to have sample T-shirts at the next committee meeting on Tuesday.

At least 20 persons died and approximately 6,000 became ill when heavy fog, fed by mill pollutants, blanketed the community the last week of October 1948.

Doctors, fire and police personnel worked around the clock during the disaster, which escalated on Friday, Oct. 28.

Donora Zinc Works shut down on Sunday evening, but, when rain fell that night, dissipating the fog, production resumed the following day.

The U.S. Public Health Service, during its investigation, concluded that toxic emissions from the mill had combined with the fog while being held over Donora by an inversion to form the deadly mixture.

The disaster that shocked the country touched off a nationwide campaign to curb air pollution.

Enactment of the Clean Air Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency are a legacy of the Donora tragedy. Donora became synonymous with the fight for clean air.

The November committee meeting was attended by about 20 persons, including Jerry Dran, of Webster, who described the devastation from the smog in his community, which is located directly across the Monongahela River from Donora.

Ralph Stone, who lived in Monessen at the time, recalled how the heavy fog hampered a football game.

Loretta Manus agreed to head the Interdenominational Community Church Service, and Casey Perotta and Martin Hoak will set up a Web page with ongoing information and also make parade plans.

Former Donora Councilman and Mayor Tony Massafra offered his assistance and shared his recollection of seeing firemen going through the streets during the day with flashlights.

Councilwoman Marie Trozzo pledged her support and recalled her mother not allowing her to go to the Halloween parade because "they couldn't see across the porch of their home."

Shirley Long's grandmother, Susan Gnora, died in the smog as did June Weisdack's father-in-law, George Weisdack Sr.

Many others had "smog stories" to share.

Manus reminded the group "not everyone can be a leader, but all can help as the specific committees are formed."

And that should take place at next Tuesday's meeting, starting at 7 p.m. in the Donora American Legion Home, Fifth Street and Meldon Avenue.

Anyone interested in helping is invited to attend.