ALA Remembers Donora, Pa., Incident

The American Lung Association joined with residents of Donora, Pa., in commemorating the 60th anniversary of one of the country's landmark environmental disasters. Between Oct. 26 and 31, 1948, half of Donora's 14,000 residents were hospitalized for breathing problems and 20 people died.

The American Lung Association remembers this tragedy and urges individuals to join the continuing fight for clean air.

On Oct. 26, 1948, thick smog from the Donora Zinc Works engulfed the small Pennsylvania town. An air inversion -- a condition that leads to still and windless air -- trapped pollution from the factory in a bowl formed by surrounding hills, causing thick haze. Firefighters went door-to-door to provide oxygen to residents. The heavy smog forced them to use fences to feel their way between homes.

Eventually, even the firefighters were forced to wait for the pollution to clear. Doctors determined that it had become too dangerous to be outside and told all residents to go home, shut the windows, and wait. The thick, murky smog made evacuation impossible. The Donora tragedy made headlines. The volume of people hospitalized and the number of deaths sent a clear message that polluted air could no longer be ignored. Images of Donora at noon -- streetlights on yet hardly visible -- demonstrated the necessity of cleaning up our air.

"The tragedy at Donora helped the American Lung Association rally support for the landmark Clean Air Act of 1970 and made reducing pollution a national priority," said Bernadette Toomey, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

"We have successfully worked to make the air we breathe today cleaner than it was in 1948," said Toomey. "Even so, the air in many cities still places far too many lives and health at risk."

Today, some estimate that tens of thousands die annually from outdoor air pollution in the United States. The toxic air results from coal-fired power plants, dirty diesel exhaust, and other commonplace sources.

Two of five people still live in areas with unhealthy levels of pollution, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2008 report at The State of the Air report documents how millions of people are at high risk of serious health problems when they breathe air pollution, especially children, teens, and seniors, and those with lung diseases such as asthma or anyone with heart disease or diabetes. Clean air is still and will always be critical to protecting human health.

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