A prominent bronze plaque at the southern entrance to Donora honors smog victims...and then some.
I thought I had determined the final count of victims from the Donora Death Fog. I was wrong.
After Susan Gnora died in the smog, a settlement with US Steel allowed each of her eight children, all of whom were age 20 or older, to receive a bit over half the cost of a new TV.
So, who *really* died in the Donora Death Fog?
This post was updated Feb. 14, 2020, based on information obtained from Stanley Sawa's son. One of the first stories I heard about the Donora…
Knowing where each victim lived — and died — can be instructive for several reasons. Consider how many of those victims and their families must have known each other.
Ceh and Kirkwood were the first Donorans to die in the Donora Death Fog of 1948. At least 18 more followed, most of them the same night. Ceh died from sudden heart failure, Jeanie of asthma. Both of their death certificates indicate they died at 2:00 AM on the deadliest day of the smog, Saturday, October 30, 1948.
Certainly there have been strides made in the nation's ability to combat air pollution. The greater Pittsburgh area, which once served basically as "Air Pollution Central" due to the many steel plants there, has seen continued progress (right) for many years, as have most cities throughout the U.S. We need to remain fully committed to this path to attain truly clean air.
Four people are sometimes listed as having perished in smog, but for many reasons finding definitive information on them has proven extremely difficult. They are Steve Faulchak, Ruth Jones, and Alice Ward.
Susan was having trouble breathing that morning, but she kept ironing nonetheless. She also had a headache that wouldn't go away. She had never had a health problem before, aside from a twisted ankle when she was young, and she had no history of asthma or other lung disease. Yet on this foggy day a woman who had survived the births of 14 children struggled for breath.
He strapped on the oxygen tank he kept at home, the green one, labeled TO BE FILLED WITH COMPRESSED OXYGEN ONLY, and walked out the back door, onto Thompson Avenue, into the dark fog. Bill Schempp at a fire practice Walking had become so difficult by then that he dropped to his hands and knees and crept through the heavy, burning fog, feeling his way from house to house.
If even a slight breeze had strolled through the Donora valley that week the smoke would have broken up, giving residents some respite. But no, there was no breeze to be had, not in Donora, nor in Monessen to the south, nor in Monongahela to the north.
It seems that not everyone received a death certificate in 1948, or, if they did, it was lost or never archived. Marriage applications, census data, immigration passenger lists, and so forth, are also often inaccurate or provide inconsistent information.
With the EPA undergoing extensive downsizing and the Trump administration wanting to open previously protected lands to oil and shale drilling, Donora continues to remind the nation of the need for clean air.
"People would come to the town, and they would say, 'What’s that smell?' And people who lived here would say, 'What smell?' And my grandpa would say, 'Well, it smells like money.'"
Donora, a riverside mill town in southwest Pennsylvania, suffered a prolonged bout of concentrated, toxic smog in late October 1948, during which at least 20 people died and thousands more became ill.
Common to all three tragedies were two key elements. First, large factories in each area had been spewing enormous amounts of pollutants into the air, the most deadly being sulfur dioxide. And second, Mother Nature came calling in the form of something called a temperature inversion.
On Tuesday October 26, the air over Donora became foggy from cool air being trapped beneath warmer air above in what meteorologists term a temperature inversion. Normally inversions last less than a day, but this one lasted a devastating five days. Within two days the fog had turned into a stinging, yellowish-gray shroud so thick that many people couldn't drive, couldn't even walk without stumbling. "It was so bad," said one resident, "that I'd accidentally step off the curb and turn my ankle because I couldn't see my feet."