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Donora Death Fog: A Look Back at the Worst Air Pollution Disaster in US History (Virtual)

July 16 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Mortician Rudolph Schwerha had already picked up two bodies in the dense fog. When he finally returned to the funeral home he found his wife, Helen, waiting at the door. “Before she spoke,” recalled Schwerha, “I knew what she would say. I thought, Oh, my God—another! I knew it by her face. And after that came another. Then another. There seemed to be no end. By ten o’clock in the morning, I had nine bodies waiting here.” What was happening? “We didn’t know. I thought probably the fog was the reason; it had the smell of poison. But we didn’t know.”

Schwerha’s gut sense proved sadly accurate. A heavy fog had descended over Donora, a small steel and zinc mill town along the Monongahela River about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. It was Halloween weekend in 1948, and before the weekend had ended 21 people would perish from the toxins concentrated in the fog, toxins that came mostly from the zinc mill at the north end of town. It was the worst air pollution disaster in US history, and it would prompt the legislation we know today as the Clean Air Act.

Join author Andy McPhee for a presentation about the town, its mills, and the smog that literally changed the quality of our air.

About the Speaker: Andy McPhee is a retired nurse and educational healthcare publisher and the author of six books, most recently Donora Death Fog: Clean Air and the Tragedy of a Pennsylvania Mill Town, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The book provides the most complete and comprehensive accounting of the smog ever written. McPhee lives in Saint Petersburg, Florida, with his wife and two dogs.

Register here for this pay-as-you-wish event

Admission: Pay as You Wish! Your donation is greatly appreciated. All proceeds benefit the development of future programming and the preservation of the History Center and its collections. The History Center is home to over 750,000 manuscripts, 100,000 photographs, and 70,000 artifacts. Your donation helps us to preserve and share those resources.

Presentation is via Zoom, and will be recorded and available for 7 days for all registered participants. We will email out a Zoom link the day of the presentation, and email a link to the recording within 24 hours. Note: the Zoom link emailed out the day of the presentation only takes you to the live presentation; the link emailed out the day after will contain the recorded version.

This program is made possible with support from The Haverford Trust Company.


July 16
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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