1948 Killer Smog In Donora, Pennsylvania

Killler smog that engulfed Donora, Pennsylvania in October of 1948.

I have been reading Stan Musial: An American Life which mentioned that a killer smog had took 18 or more lives. Stan Musial’s father Lukasz already had health problems before the killer smog and died less than two months after the smog hit Donora, Pennsylvania, late in October of 1948.

The smog first started engulfing the city on October 27 and remained until October 31, when rain dispersed the smog. Poisonous gases from the Donora Zinc Works and American Steel and Wire plant usually left the area, but this time the poisonous gases were trapped in smog that covered the area nearest to the plants.

Driving was risky during the smog, since visibility was close to zero. Drivers had to drive with their head out the car window to see where they were going.

Surprisingly, a high school football game was played during the killer smog, but no passes were thrown, since they couldn’t be seen through the smog.

Fluorine gas was the cause of the deaths and illness experienced by Donora residents. Some of the victims had 20 times the normal fluorine in their bodies.

Nearly 7,000 people became ill from the killer smog, which was about half the population of Donora. There is no telling how many deaths were a direct result of the smog, in the years following the smog.

Boston.com website has an excellent article on the Donora killer smog:


Historical marker commemorating the killer smog in Donora, Pennsylvania in October of 1948.

The killer smog in Donora eventually brought about change in the way poisonous gases were released into the atmosphere when Clean Air Act was enacted by the government.

It is possible that young kids living in Donora in 1948, who would be about 65-75 today could someday too be victims of the 1948 killer smog if they ingested smaller amounts of the poisonous gases.



Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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