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Social Life in 1940s Donora

For decades during the mid-1900s a Chamber of Commerce sign at the Donora town line read, “NEXT TO YOURS THE BEST TOWN IN THE USA.” Donorans found an odd pride in being a second-best town, no matter where a visitor came from. Perhaps that was to be expected. The town didn’t originate naturally, as a place people moved to because they liked the area or as a natural outgrowth of an urban area. No, it originated because industrialists in Pittsburgh thought it would make the best spot to build steel and zinc mills.

Why I Write

I have been writing now — officially, professionally, occasionally happily — for 35 years, and I don't believe I have ever, until now, committed to paper exactly why. So, let's have at it. I write to...

Could Donora Happen Again? Here in the US?

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.

Staying Calm in the Face of Trumpism

Just a few days later I was presented, apparently by cosmic fate, two items that have given me a new perspective on how Facebook and other social media have helped to make compromise nearly impossible and how I, in turn, could make my role in protesting obscene policies more effective, rational, and humane.

The Life and Death of a Smog Victim

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.

Saving Donorans on a Deadly Night

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.

Hey, I Can Hear You Now!

After numerous tests and bunches of conversations with my wife that went something like this: Her: Could you let the dog in? Me: What? Her: For God’s sake, GET HEARING AIDS! I finally went and did just that. I went to a wonderful audiologist, Dr. Holli Lish at the Audiology & Hearing Aid Center in Warminster...

What’s In a Word? The Etymology of Smog

"The word thus coined is a contraction of smoke and fog — 'smog' — and its introduction was received with applause as being eminently expressive and appropriate. It is not exactly a pretty word, but it fits very well the thing it represents, and it has only to become known to be popular."

Gone Was the Wind

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.

Who Was William Donner, the Man?

Most people know Donner, if they know him at all, as the founder of Donora, a town with a name unlike any other in the world. They might know that Donner was connected to the Mellons —Andrew W. and Richard B. — and that he was instrumental in creating the zinc and steel mills in Donora at the turn of the 20th Century. They might not know much else.