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Next on cue we remember a tragic anniversary fifty five years ago was smothering fog killed people and Washington counties. You're going to meet the people who survived it and see how the Dinora smogs still impacts us today. Also tonight controversy in our CROSSFIRE segment because of a police station turning into a truancy Center. Stay connected. NQ starts right now. Welcome to argue magazine. I'm Steve Smith. Fifty five years ago tonight a tragedy was unfolding that would put this region in the national headlines. It was just around Halloween in 1948 when a deadly smog settled over the town of Dinora in Washington County when the smog lifted lives and laws were changed forever. On cue contributor Eddie Mason shows how this local
tragedy with the word pollution in the nation's vocabulary. It. Looks like the fog is a day that you could. Imagine. What. Would happen if the smoke couldn't go. It couldn't dissipate. They were panicking. And they were scared to death. People became aware. That. There were a lot of people dying. And it was unfortunately a recipe for disaster. I want to bring. In our of Pennsylvania now for more on the man and the epidemic and in our web in depth all of them are honoring Bob had read and.
It was the fall of 1948 when that deadly smog descended on Dinora. Toxic fumes from a zinc plant and other nearby mills hung over the area for five days when rain finally cleared the air. Twenty people had died. Thousands more were sick. Today. Most people don't know about the Dinora smog. Some know it as a footnote in history. And very few know how the tragedy changed the way we live and breathe. Except for those who live through it just can't get over that green over there in Webster on top of the hill. Everything was dark brown it was dirt. Yep. Jean Davis is back home. She hasn't seen Dinora in decades.
Jean raised her family there and returned with her daughter Devra for a look at the old neighborhood. I remember the house was there where your mom lives and she talked about the Dinora of yesterday. We all grew up there. They remember life in a small town settled on the steep hills above the Monongahela River. You know I used to walk up and down the steps four times a day to go to Kassner school on 10th Street. How many steps were there. A hundred and five hundred and five. Why did you keep counting them. I guess it helps pass the time for Gene. This homecoming is about more than memories. She walks with a sense of pride because of her daughter's surviving everyday. This student at dinner is old Sampson Star School graduate of the University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist and one of the leading authorities on environmental dangers. Davis is now telling the Dinora story in her book when smoke grand like water tales of environmental deception and pollution.
We had great hills for sliding down because of course nothing grew on many of them they were just barren dirt kind of steep like like right here. Growing up in Dinora Devra Davis thought the smoky skies and dusty hillsides were normal. Well if you lived here it smelled just fine. She never noticed the stunted trees or the stink of the mills. People would come to the town and they'd say. What's that smell. And people who lived here would say What smell. And my grandpa would say Well it smells like money. The. Dinora zinc works was making money. And like the mills and most steel towns it loomed large in the community physically and economically. The plant pumped out salaries along with smoke and toxins 24 hours a day. The zinc plant actually was over there. Of course now you can't see it because it's so green and it had stacks. There were a hundred ten feet high.
Everyone in the valley knew those facts he omitted something unhealthy. And all they had to do was follow the smoke. Which usually blew across the river to the small community of Webster. Webster was right right downwind of the plume from the zinc works. It was totally barren treeless Hills soot covered buildings in the shadow of a hulking structure on the riverbank. Ugly by today's standards. But the people of Dinora chose to celebrate the beauty of the zinc works and its contribution to the community. When the mills were working people were had jobs and this is a hard working town. People lived in the north had to be pretty hardy not hardy enough though to withstand what happened just before Halloween in 1948 when a deadly air inversion settled over the valley these hills here they're not very high but they're high enough that the cold heavier air rolling off those hills could smack down the hot. Fumes coming out of those zinc stacks so that you had a
static level of air sitting there over those hot fumes for five days. At first nobody notice. Visibility was just worse than usual. It was around Halloween time. And the kids were all excited they were in a parade. And you didn't have to make it smoky it was already spooky cause you couldn't say very much you had a very eerie feeling. All day. Went on. Because nothing ever stopped football in Dinora or Monongahela. Bernie Richardson Joe Esky Mario Perfetto myself and Tony Romo. Tino remembers his high school teammates like it was yesterday. He played right guard for the Dinora dragons in what some call the best football game that was never seen. The Dragons against the Monongahela Wildcats. Tony says practice at Legion Field the day before was especially bad. We lined up for. Kickoff. Team on the 40. The
other team on the other for. 20 yards at separate us. Could not see each other. Could not see each other. Despite the fog. The rifles went ahead and. Fans. Packed the stadium. And Mom said. They gave us the worst whipping in three years. We were nuts. I mean there were too many things happening. Word was starting to spread the blanket of fog was making people sick. Still sulfur carbon monoxide and heavy metal dust kept pouring out of the plant. I went to a nurse. At Orangeville Eileen Loftis was a young woman. In charge of the nursing staff. She was called to duty when gasping mill workers crowded the infirmary. And my mother said. Don't go to work. I said I have to die. Even at the age of 85 Eileen says she'll never forget walking to the plant
to a blinding cloud. So I walked up to Thompson avenue to eighth street. And I. Touched the houses as I went along to make sure I was still on the sidewalk and I just felt my way along the fence I couldn't see. But in no time the hospital wife and. I and some of them on the floor. I had to leave because there was no place. They want to know if they were born to live or not live if I can help it. And I I really I talked to them and I sort of. Changed their mind a little bit. You think this was used as a temporary morgue. Yes. When the funeral homes ran out of space bodies were taken to the community center and emergency workers struggled to keep the death count from rising. The fire bells rang. Asked to
come along. Bill Schempp no longer answers fire alarms. He spends his days tinkering with the classic 1947 fire truck. That he's proudly restored. Bill has served the Dinora fire department for 56 years. That's him 20 years ago when a building caught fire on Mickey Avenue. Here's Bill on a vintage fire truck in 1948 when I was young and wanting to do all I could. 48 was the year Bill Schempp carried oxygen to smog victims door to door. On foot because he couldn't see to drive. I had to feel my way. There was no way that you could you could see where you were going. I had a handkerchief that was wet. I had part of it in my mouth and the rest was over my nose. I got to the point of where I was on the verge of panic myself because once I started I had no idea where I was. The town was shut down and people were not out on the street. They were all in their homes
and told to keep their windows closed. You would be amazed at how eerie. Feeling was there was a sensation. There was no noise. No nothing. There were no vehicles operating at all. Twenty funeral. Reading. National headlines. That's what it took to temporarily shut down the zinc plant. And there was no real way of proving cases of long term exposure at that time I was going to junior high school in Dinora. I was in ninth grade. Dimitri Pietro's a doctor now. He set up practice in his hometown. Now am seeing a lot of people with chronic lung disease who live in this Mon Valley area as a result of all the meals. The death certificate said heart attack football player Tony Roman Tino's father worked at the zinc
plant and died just weeks after the smog lifted. I can't say for certain. That he died because of the smog but it did have an effect. It slowed him down. A federal team moved in to examine the survivors and test the air. The Dinora zinc works finally closed for good. The town gathered to watch its demolition. But there was no celebration. The small victims are now faded images in old newspapers. Names long forgotten by most but their deaths sent the world a message. That still lives today. I don't think they died in vain I think in fact we saw the beginnings of a lot of legislation to clean up the air. And in fact the whole Allegheny County Pittsburgh area became a leader in clean air legislation and brought a lot of things to
life. They had the federal government come in with representatives. It made the people begin to realize what they were breathing. The nation learned quite a bit. That led. To the death sentence or led to the passage of the Clean Air Act. People understood that they had to do something different. Nor with a healthy working class population and if people here who were steelworkers and football players would die from pollution this was a very serious problem. We had a sense of community and they were really not aware of the fact that. Living here was really tough. No. One. Don't. Had many good friends. Yes. People don't care what. This community is. Still surviving.
To. The smog not only laid the groundwork for the clean air act of 1963 it also led to the origins of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time of the tragedy a federal investigation did not officially indicate who was to blame. The owner of the zinc plant denied responsibility but did settle hundreds of claims. And we would also like it take a moment to remember someone who was featured in the story you just watched Gene Davis died not long after sharing memories of her hometown. For this report our condolences to her family. You're wanting on Q magazine because the foundations care enough about local programming to help pay for it. The Howard Hunt them down in. The Richard kindlin foundation. The McKuen foundation. The Pittsburgh foundation. The Henry Hill Foundation. And we couldn't do it without you. The members of the two evils.
What will become of the former West End Zone for police station. One thing is certain. An outspoken group of Western residents did not want to see it turned into a truancy Center on. Chris Moore has been following the controversy and is tackling this topic tonight on CROSSFIRE. Chris what's happening. Well Stacy ever since the city's budget woes became apparent and were translated into layoffs of city workers including the police and the closing of the West End police station the mayor's office has struggled with what to do with that facility. One idea was to turn it into a truancy center that would detain truants and keep them there. But many people in the neighborhood is represented by our guest councilman Alan Hertzberg did not want that to happen. So you won a victory of sorts today before the zoning board. Is that right what happened. Yes. Well the zoning board looked at what had been their police station and that was the use permitted under the zoning wardens. And then it looked at this proposal to put the curfew truancy center there
and there was really no classification for that in a zoning ordinance. But the closest they found was a corrections facility and a corrections facility is not a permitted use in that zone. And as a result the zoning board denied it. It was effectively a request for a variance but there was not the proper kind of showing you need to get a city council person as the representative of people in the West if you consider this a victory don't you. Yes I do. What's going to happen next. Well what you want and what the people who lived in the West and want is for that police station to reopen. That really can't happen given the city's budget woes can it. It can happen and it may happen on December 11th the Commonwealth court is scheduled to hear the appeal from from the decision of the lower court which denied our request for an injunction to reopen the station. So this higher court the Commonwealth court
could in fact order the city to reopen the police station. Has the city going to do that if it doesn't have the money to do that. I don't think it's accurate to say the city doesn't have the money the city council you know with the budget woes are. It's a question of how you deploy are police really. And we can move the people around and reopen that station. I truly believe we can. It's just a question of how the chief would prefer to do things versus what the neighborhood would like to see and not only what I feel and everyone would like to see but what the city had agreed to give them which was the same level of services that were in effect. Here's where you know that all bets are off with the city budget woes the way they are. The mayor face faced with these problems city council which you're part of is faced with these problems. What specifically would you suggest that would accomplish with the budget woes that we have the reopening of that station.
Well there are two ways that could be reopened. Number one is just to what you could do is staff it differently than it was staffed in the past instead of having the commander there you could use a sergeant to run it lieutenant to run it. The other alternatives are just to run a police station a zone station. You have sergeants running those all the time. It's just a question of who is there who's not there who's on vacation who's not on vacation. In fact during the evening hours virtually all our stations are run by by lieutenants and if the lieutenant happens to be on vacation it could be a sergeant running the place. What would be the service to the community if you reopen it and it's under staffed. If it's understaffed if there's no staff there there's no point in doing it. I would agree. But the question of the service that a station provides a community is what this is all about. To me the ability for people to go to the station near their home see a police officer make a report of a crime or the person that
comes back from getting a protection from abuse order needs to have that things or can go to the station near their home. All the kinds of services that are available to station really is what this is about. To me what about the number of people who have complained at the zoning board meeting today. I understand only about 20 people there were who were there who were complaining. I've read comments in both daily papers here where Judy died. A spokesman for the mayor has said she hasn't heard much complaint from citizens in the West End at all. Oh I wouldn't agree with her on that. I mean all the comments I've had it been negative. I've had a lot of discussions with the people and I would just have to tell Judy I think I'm a little closer to the action and she is on this thing. How much of this is a NIMBY syndrome not in my backyard. I don't want a juvenile detention facility in the West End because I live there. That's what your constituents I'm telling you. It's got to go somewhere. The mayor's face we're
closing that downtown public safety area where it is now. By the end of this month it is next month and you're right it is that kind of thing. I don't I don't want a correctional facility or correction type facility in my backyard. But I think you're entitled to do that when you have a neighborhood like this. It's a local neighborhood commercial district. It's mainly for small business and residential. It's not the appropriate place to put a jail like facility where there aren't whole neighborhoods in the city that same thing and it's got to go somewhere if it's going to move from downtown where is it going to go you're going to end up pitting one neighborhood against the other because nobody's going to want it. Well there are other zoning districts where this is a possibility and you can get this kind of use of proof so that's not one of them. So you would go into some of the heavier industrial districts. Sure that's where these kinds of uses are permitted not in a local neighborhood commercial. Rename the neighborhood. Where are you talking about in the Strib district. What are some of those industrial districts in the Strip
District. Yeah they're there. There's probably 20 of them throughout the city at different locations. But again that gets back to pitting one neighborhood against the other. And you know just like your constituents didn't want it in the West in nobody's going to want it in the east in nobody is going to want it on the north side nobody is going to want it in Oakland. It's going to be a wandering sheep isn't it. There may be people that don't want it. There may be a place where you can put it where you're going to have little resistance to it just depends. I think there are certain areas that sometimes are in such hard times. We're happy to have any new facility there. West-End isn't one of those areas west and business district is an area that's finally seeing revitalization. We have new businesses starting to come in there we have the Pittsburgh musical theater right across the street that heavily objected to this use. We have the James gallery a new art gallery the biggest dart supplier in all of western Pennsylvania. That's on the next block. We have the West and Parkhouse a new restaurant that just opened up across
the street in it. You know but look to some other places. Again there we go maybe let's look at some other place. We've got e-mails here on cue from police officers new to the force who have been laid off in these budget reductions. They talk about the crime in the city they talk about the lowering of police presence. They are the guys the officers on the street that are going to be on the go go and reduce crime and stop some of the killing that's going on as a city council person. What do you say to the mayor about the budget the cuts he has to face the layoffs the face and the rising crime rate we see particularly violent crimes like murders that have happened in the city. I you know if we have to cut I'm I think our highest priority is got to be public safety. I mean police are you know one of the main reasons city government exists to protect the public and that should be the last place we're cutting. But if we need to do the Park Service workers refuse
workers somebody will back to the same issue with with whether a juvenile detention facility goes somebody is going to get cut somebody is going to believe somebody does. But the way this was done was not the right way to do it. Police and virtually everyone in in municipal government when you have to lower the size of your workforce. The way to do it is not laying people off. The way to do it is to try to get people to retire. And we did just the opposite with our police. I have to beg to differ with you in a few seconds we have remaining. They offered early retirement to a number of police officers and some of them didn't take it. No that's not what they did. They actually offered our police a disincentive to retire. When you retire. Ordinarily the ordinary retirement you get your vacation and you get your sick pay when you retire. So with all these police you'll get it next year. And wasn't one of them. And you should have given him a sweetener. All right thank you sir. We have to leave it there. Thank you very much for being here. And remember you can catch Chris every Monday and
Friday night Stacee on Monday night. We'll have an election day preview with political analyst John Bellino. Thank you Chris. And now here's a look at some of the stories we're working on for next week. Monday night it's a race that will define the future of Allegheny County. Incumbent Republican Jim Rotty and Democratic challenger Dan Arado have fiercely criticized each other over the issues and negative campaigning. We'll profile the candidates for Allegheny County Executive Monday night. And while both candidates have promised roll office consolidation to save taxpayers money they disagree over who can do it faster. We'll take a look at reforming the role offices on Tuesday night on Wednesday on cue continues its commitment to young people with our ongoing series lessons for life. The topic teens and sex. And death and I found that I find that kind of pot and. Crack. Crack. Crack. Cocaine addiction. Teenagers and sex is our lessons for life story Wednesday night on Thursday. Q Is it the Pittsburgh Film Festival and on Friday they call
him grammar man. Find out how this local superhero is making school cool. That's Friday night. Stay connected. And before we go tonight we want to let you know about some of the other great local programming you can see this weekend here on WQED TV 13. Tonight at 10:00 it's the country's longest running series for an African-American audience. Black horizons hosted by Chris Moore and at 11:30 tonight. You'll want to stay up for the off cue. Also hosted by Chris Moore it's a spirited look back at the News of the week. Tonight's panel includes Fred hamburger from KDKA Radio Ruthin daily from The Post Gazette. Rob Rossi from the Tribune Review and special guest John McIntyre. Also Alan Cox will be a long Saturday at 5:30. Elinor Shino hosts life quest and Saturday night at 11:30 see Pittsburgh through to regular Pittsburghers eyes when you watch Dave and Dave. Excellent adventures a great variety of local programming you will only see here on WQED TV 13. Thank you for watching. We'll be back live at 7:30 Monday. Stay connected and a happy and safe
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CS: Donora Smog (Encore: Andy+Dave S) Vo: Jean Davis Obit FSSS CF: Alan Hertzberg (Pgh. Councilman) (cm) | | | v
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Duration: 27:30:00
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APA: OnQ; 4137. Boston, MA: WQED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from