Andy McPhee’s Donora Death Fog paints a riveting portrait of the deadly 1948 smog and presents for the first time a detailed timeline of the six-day tragedy and the people who lived, worked, and died in the riverside mill town. He also documents the subtle racism pervading Donora, a town that prided itself on its diversity. A compelling page-turner, Donora Death Fog shows why the legacy of the smog continues to reside in the heart of the town’s sons and daughters and in the air we all breathe today.
In October 1948, a seemingly average fog descended on the tiny mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania. With a population of fewer than fifteen thousand, the town’s main industry was steel and zinc mills—mills that continually emitted pollutants into the air. The six-day smog event left twenty-one people dead and thousands sick. Even after the fog lifted, hundreds more died or were left with lingering health problems. Donora Death Fog details how six fateful days in Donora led to the nation’s first clean air act in 1955, and how such catastrophes can lead to successful policy change. Andy McPhee tells the very human story behind this ecological disaster: how wealthy industrialists built the mills to supply an ever-growing America; how the town’s residents—millworkers and their families—willfully ignored the danger of the mills’ emissions; and how the gradual closing of the mills over the years following the tragedy took its toll on the town.
In an approachable and informative narrative history, Andy McPhee situates the catastrophic environmental disaster in the town of Donora in the context of the various human motivations and actions that conspired to create the perfect storm of this deadly smog event. He has done a remarkable job of creating personal narratives intermixed with historical context in such a way that is compelling, yet informative, for general and expert readers alike.
The story of a tight-knit community that united to face an air pollution disaster, Donora Death Fog is an important contribution to environmental history. Written with insight and compassion, it helps us understand the social networks that can sustain organized responses in the desperate early hours of unforeseen tragedy.
Andy McPhee is the author of three books for young adults and the author or editor of more than 750 health and life sciences articles. Over his career, he worked as a registered nurse for twenty-five years before transitioning to publishing, most recently at F. A. Davis, a nursing and allied healthcare educational publisher. He lives in Doylestown, PA.