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Donora Smog anniversary event set

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

On Nov. 3, 1995, a historical marker was placed in front of the Donora Library commemorating one of the darkest days in American history.

Twenty people died from Oct. 26 to 31, 1948, and more than 7,000 were hospitalized or became ill as the result of severe air pollution over Donora. It was caused when a blanket of dense, cold air above Donora kept smoke generated by a zinc plant from escaping into the atmosphere.

The event widely became known as the Donora Smog.

The investigation of the incident by state and federal health officials resulted in the first meaningful federal and state air pollution control laws.

That tragic event played a part in improving air quality and led to the formation in 1970 of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It also led to the Environmental Bill of Rights, which stated each American has a right to clean air.

The 60th anniversary of the event was marked in October 2008 with the opening of the Donora Smog Museum at the intersection of Seventh Street and McKean Avenue.

From Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, the community will mark the 65th anniversary of the Donora Smog.

A Town Hall Environmental Conference designed to connect the 1948 Donora Smog Disaster with current environmental concerns will kick off the anniversary.

It will feature both morning and afternoon sessions Oct. 30 at the Donora Municipal Building on Meldon Avenue.

In addition to the general public, the event is designed to appeal to middle school, high school, and university students; educators; researchers; environmental groups; historians; and scientists.

The day will conclude with a screening of “Rumor of Blue Sky,” a documentary by filmmaker and Art Institute of Pittsburgh Professor Andrew Maietta.

“Rumor of Blue Sky” uses oral histories to tell the story of the smog disaster through the personal accounts of people who lived through the Donora Smog.

Maietta and co-producer Janet Whitney will be on hand to answer questions about the film.

A conference also kicked off the 60th anniversary of the Donora Smog.

The historic days have been marked each year since 2008.

The Donora Smog Commemorative Committee and the Donora Historical Society combined forces in 2008 to take on not only the commemoration of the smog disaster but the history of the borough, committee member Deanna Pavelko said.

Despite the smog, Donora held its annual Halloween Parade in 1948. Images of costumed children walking through the eerie smog are part of the history of the event.

On Oct. 31, 2013, the smog/Halloween commemorative parade will take place.

Line-up will begin 5 p.m. at the intersection of Third Street and Meldon Avenue. The parade will begin at 6 p.m.

Prizes will be awarded for the best environmental float, best environmental group and best individual environmental costume.

Events on Nov. 2 will begin with the fourth annual Donora Smog 5K run/walk and 10K skate.

Registration and check-in begins 8 a.m. at the Valley Skating Center on 506 Galiffa Drive in the Donora Industrial Park.

The 10K skate begins 9 a.m. The 5K walk and run begins 10 a.m.

Beginning along Galiffa Drive, the race proceeds through the industrial park to a spot under the Donora-Monessen Bridge before turning back.

Proceeds from the race will benefit the smog museum, said Pavelko, the race organizer.

“We have continually grown,” Pavelko said. “We have been well received by the Valley.”

Pavelko expects about 250 people to participate.

“It is a nice level course with a water station at the half-way point,” Pavelko said.

Awards will be given to the top three overall finishers, as well as the top three racers in each age group for skaters, walkers and runners.

In the evening, a buffet dinner will take place 6 p.m. in the Donora Municipal Building.

The Latshaw Pops Orchestra will present “A Step Back In Time” at 8 p.m. with music for listening and dancing from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Prizes will be awarded to those who dress in costumes related to the period, Pavelko said.

“The show will recall when Donora was a jumping place,” Pavelko said of the Donora Smog era. “We want to take people back to what it would have been like.”

A disc jockey will appear from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Tickets are available at the Smog Museum, which can be reached at 724-823-0364.

On Nov. 3, an ecumenical Memorial Service will take place 2 p.m. in the Calvary United Presbyterian Church at 800 Thompson Ave.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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