As governments decide what to do about air quality, studies connect an array of health problems to dirty air
To the residents of Donora, Pa., a mill town in a crook of the Monongahela River, the daily haze from nearby zinc and steel plants was the price of keeping their families fed. But on October 27, 1948, the city awoke to an unusually sooty sky, even for Donora. The next day, the high school quarterbacks couldn’t see their teammates well enough to complete a single pass.
The town was engulfed in smog for five days, until a storm finally swept the pollution out of the valley. By then, more than one-third of the population had fallen ill and 20 people were dead. Another 50 perished in the following months.
After the Donora tragedy, the federal government began to clamp down on industries that release pollutants into the air. Environmental advocates in the coming decades fought for, and won, tighter regulations. As a result, combined emissions of six common air pollutants have dropped by about 70 percent nationwide since the 1970 passage of the Clean Air Act, which