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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ch. 9. Donora: A Rich Man's Hocus Pocus: the fluoride deception by Christopher Bryson from archive.org

Ch. 9. Donora: A Rich Man's Hocus Pocus: the fluoride deception by Christopher Bryson from archive.org
Donora: A Rich Man's Hocus Pocus     I have felt the fog in my throat   The misty hand of Death caress my face;   I have wrestled with a frightful foe   Who strangled me with wisps of gray fog-lace.   Now in the eyes since I have died. The bleak,   bare hills rise in stupid might With scars of its   slavery imbedded deep;   And the people still live — still live — in the poisonous night.   Attributed to area resident John P. Clark, whose mother-in-law, Mrs.  Jeanne Kirkwood, aged seventy, died at Clark's home at 2 AM on Saturday,  October 30, 1948.   THE MOST VISIBLE U.S. air pollution disaster after the war was in  Donora, Pennsylvania, where twenty people were killed and many  hundreds were injured following a smog that blanketed the mill town over  the Halloween weekend of October 1948. Philip Sadtler, the chemical https://www.blogger.com/null consultant and antipollution crusader, had gone to Donora immediately  afterward and written a report blaming fluoride. However, his conclusions  were soon
drowned out by the subsequent official Public Health Service  investigation that blamed a temperature inversion and "a mixture" of  industrial pollutants.' Robert Kehoe and Edward Largent also investigated  the disaster and prepared medical evidence against the Donora survivors  who     DONORA     115     sued the U.S. Steel Company for damages. Kehoe s files shine a stark  new light upon these historic events.   Halloween 1948: Donora   WHEN PHILIP S A D T L E R stepped from the train platform onto  Donora's cobbled streets that November morning in 1948, he carefully  made his way up McKean Avenue and past the many churches and  Slavic working clubs of the industrial Pennsylvania town.   Grief and fear still clung to the air. It was only five days after what  had been the worst recorded air pollution disaster in U.S. history.'  Bodies stiffened in Rudolph Schwerha's funeral home. Scores of citi  zens had been hospitalized and many hundreds lay seriously   Sadtler nodded a greeting at a knot of Donora s grim-faced citizens.  He studied them closely, already gathering clues. Over that Halloween  weekend twenty people had been killed in Donora and the nearby town  of Webster. Two more would die that same week, and many more  would succumb to their injuries in the weeks and months ahead.' An  estimated 6,000 men, women, and children had been sickened, out of  a population of 13,500. They were choked and poisoned in their homes  and beds by a toxic gas from the metal-smelting plants along the banks  of Monongahela River, which cut between the two towns. The deadly  effluent was trapped in the river valley by a seasonal temperature  inversion. A layer of warm atmosphere had pressed down on the cold  dense air below and a blanket of industrial filth had smothered Donora  and Webster for almost five days.   The townspeople were unaware at first that a disaster was unfold ing.  Their Halloween parade on the Friday night down McKean Avenue  was a ghoulish farce. They were just like shadows marching by, the  mayors wife said. It was kind of uncanny, especially since most of the  people in the crowd had handkerchiefs tied over their nose and mouth  to keep out the smoke. But, even so, everybody was coughing. The  minute it was over, everybody scattered. They just vanished. In two  minutes there wasnt a soul left on the street. It was as quiet as  midnight.'"   As midnight struck, death began to stalk the brightly painted  wood-framed homes that climbed the hills surrounding Donora.     116     CHAPTER NINE     Perhaps the first to die was Ivan Ceh, a seventy-year-old retired steel  -worker. When he was twenty-two, Ceh had set sail from Yugoslavia to  work in the Donora mills. At around 8:3o p M that Friday evening, as the  toxic fumes crept though the town, the unmarried Ceh began hacking with  a dry cough, struggling to breathe. His torment worsened through the night.  With his lungs fighting for oxygen, the steel-worker's heart suddenly failed  at around l:3o A M. "It was observed that a white frothy fluid was coming  out of the patient's mouth during the last moments of life," noted one  medical report.'   Ceh's violent demise would be typical that night. A Scottish widow  who had lived in Donora for twenty-four years since arriving in the United  States had also fallen ill on Friday. The town's smogs had frequently left  her breathless but this was much, much worse. She coughed through a  sleepless night, her lungs scrambling for air. Two hypodermic injections  brought no relief and, at 2:oo A M on Saturday, she also died of heart  failure.'   The undertaker Rudolph Schwerha may have been the first to real ize  that a tragedy was unfolding. A telephone call announced the arrival of a  new death, just as his assistant returned to the morgue with Ivan Ceh's body.  "Now I was surprised," Schwerha told The New Yorker magazine. "Two  different cases so soon together in this size town doesn't happen every  day."   Donora's longest night would be etched in the memory of its residents.  Almost fifty years later Gladys Shempp gestured to the curtains in her  Donora home and described that long-ago Friday of October 29, 1948, as  she struggled through air "as yellow as the color of those drapes. You  couldn't see. Your eyes were burning, and the tears were running down  your face."   The following morning, Saturday, October 30, her husband, Bill  Shempp, was called out to the Donora fire station to give oxygen to  residents. The smog had thickened. The volunteer firefighter crept through  empty streets he no longer recognized. "It was like a claustrophobia," he  said. "You didn't know where you were. It would take us at least two or  three hours to get to one home."   A vision of hell greeted the firemen. Frightened citizens clamored for  oxygen. Shempp released the elixir into a homemade oxygen tent made out  of a sheet or blanket. It helped, he said, but when the firemen tried to leave,  panic ensued. "They were in great fear of not     being able to breathe, Bill Shempp remembered. They were getting some  relief temporarily, and then to shut it off on them, we had quite a problem.'"   Fire chief John Volk discovered men and women whose lungs clawed  for air but whose grip on life was slipping. I found people laying in bed  and laying on the floor, he remembered. Some of them didn't give a damn  whether they died or not. I found some down in the basement with the  furnace draft open and their head stuck inside, trying to get air. '   A doctor's receptionist, Helen Stack, continued to answer a telephone  that had rung endlessly throughout Friday night with cries for help.  Everyone who called up said the same thing, Stack told The New Yorker.  Pain in the abdomen. Splitting headache. Nausea and vomiting. Choking  and couldnt get their breath. Coughing up blood.   On Saturday morning Stack called her good friend Dorothy Hollowitti to  check on Dorothys father, whod also fallen sick from the smog. She  wanted to reassure her friend that the doctor was on his way. Dorothy was  crying when she answered the phone, said Stack. "I'll never forget what  she said. She said, "Oh, Helen — my dad just died! He's dead!'"   Dorothy s father, the retired steelworker Ignatz Hollowitti, was the sixth  victim of the smog." Incredibly, even by that Saturday after -noon many  Donora residents still had no idea that a disaster was upon them. Allen  Kline was a twenty-two-year-old sportswriter for the Daily Republic,  covering the Donora high school football games. Donora had a passion for  sports. Hometown hero Stan Musial had just completed another fabulous  season with the St. Louis Cardinals, batting a league high .376 average. But  that Saturday at the football game, it was impossible to see the players from  the press box and there was a great deal of "coughing and hacking" from  spectators, Kline remembered. "It was almost unbelievable," he added. "It  seemed to be nighttime in the middle of the day.'"   During the football game an announcement was made: the children of  Bernardo Di Sanza should return home. The announcer did not mention the  reason, but the sixty-seven-year-old Di Sanza was dead. The Donora death  fog had now claimed eleven victims. 13   On the sideline reporter Allen Kline heard firemen telling stories     H8     CHAPTER NINE     about how many people they had administered oxygen to, and how people  were dropping over here and there. A temporary morgue had been set up in  the Community Center. Kline quickly called the Pittsburgh offices of the  Associated Press and UPI wire services. He discovered that, ironically,  while Donorans were just learning of the disaster, the Pittsburgh wire  services were already reporting the deaths to the nation, sealing Donoras  place in history.   Donora residents now heard the news over the radio. Walter Winchell  broadcast a report on his nationwide show on Saturday evening. Panic  quickly gripped the town, phone lines jammed with incoming calls from  worried relatives and friends, and hundreds of residents attempted to flee  the valley for higher ground. Poor visibility and choked roads, however,  meant that for many evacuation was nearly impossible, reported the New  York Times. 14   Reports of the unfolding horror quickly reached U.S. Steels corporate  headquarters in Delaware. Its subsidiary company, American Steel and  Wire, ran Donora's zinc and steel works. On Sunday morning at 3:0o A M,  with the death toll at nineteen, U.S. Steel gen eral counsel Roger Blough  made a frantic phone call. He reached the zinc works superintendent M. M.  Neale in Donora and ordered him to shut the smelter down. 15 The call may  have prevented a much greater disaster. A local doctor, William Rongaus,  later testified that if the smog had lasted just one more evening, the  casualty list would have been 1,000 instead of 20.   U.S. Steel had reason to be concerned. Donora was a company town,  entirely dominated by the mighty steel and zinc plants that stretched for  three fuming and clamorous miles along the town's riverfront. By 1948 five  thousand of Donora's men sweated in those mills, turning out record profits  that year for the company.' Even the town's name betrayed its corporate  roots. "Donora" was an amalgam of the first name of Nora Mellon, the wife  of Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Mellon, and the surname of a former  company president William Donner. 18 U.S. Steel had long ago purchased  the Donora Works from Mellon, but the town's corporate character  remained; the steel company's accounting department even drafted  Donora's town budget. 19   Donora was famous for its culture. Many workers were immigrants from  Eastern Europe, Slovenia, northern Spain, and Italy.     DONORA 119     They had seen newspaper advertisements placed by steel barons Andrew  Carnegie and Andrew Mellon in the European papers and had arrived in  Donora in the early part of the twentieth century, an excited chorus of  foreign tongues bubbling up the valley, mingling with earlier Scottish and  Irish immigrants and African Americans from the southern states. The zinc  workers — whose toil at the white-hot furnace face was some of the dirtiest  in Donora — were mostly from northern Spain.   Donora was a great Spanish town, remembered Bill Shempp. They  used to have a festival out at Palmer Park every year and people came from  as far away as California and it would last for a week or so, and they would  practically camp out."   Today a stroll through a wooded Donora cemetery whispers a memory  of the new industrial world those immigrants found. Birdsong spills upon  the gravestones, some marked with distinctive twin-horizontal Coptic  crosses, etched with Slavic, Spanish, and Italian names. Coal barges still  push up the Monongahela River. A train whistles in the valley below. On  one gravestone an engraved photograph of a young man in an  uncomfortable-looking suit stares out from behind a glass panel like an  icon, this grave a final resting place for a long-ago dream of that Promised  Land in western Pennsylvania.   In Philadelphia that disaster weekend Philip Sadtler's father, Samuel  Sadtler, flipped through the pages of his Sunday newspaper. It was full of  speculation that Harry Truman would lose the coming November election  to Republican presidential challenger Thomas Dewey. But as Sadtler read,  his eyes lit on a short description of the terrible events in Donora. Time,  Newsweek, and the New York Times all carried similar accounts of the  tragedy. Scores of Donora's sick and injured were being evacuated by air to  Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.   As he read about the Donora events, Samuel Sadtler became sus picious.  He recalled a similar disaster in Belgium some eighteen years earlier, when  fumes from metal-smelting and fertilizer factories had been trapped by a  temperature inversion and had killed sixty-three people in the Meuse  Valley. Thousands more had been left ill with respiratory and heart  problems. Kaj Roholm and other scientists had reported that fluoride  emissions from industrial plants     120     CHAPTER NINE     in the Meuse Valley had caused the disaster.' There had been three zinc  plants in the valley. Roholms book sat in Sadtlers library. He wanted his  son to go to Donora and investigate the situation.   Father said, That s fluorine," remembered Philip S adder. I said, Well,  so what Dad? I cant afford to go out there.   But five days later Philip Sadder stepped off the Donora train. The  six-foot-tall Sadtler already had his own reputation as a talented scientist  and air-pollution investigator. He had examined several big fluoride  pollution cases just after the war in Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, and  Pennsylvania, including the so-called Peach Crop cases, linked to the  Manhattan Project (see chapter 5). Sadtler had also measured fluoride  content in vegetation along the industrialized Delaware Valley and found  damage endemic and widespread. 22 " There were at least ten thousand  square miles of damage from fluorine. Most people did not know that was  going on, he said.   Sadtler's train ticket to Donora was paid for by a group of crusading  Florida farmers. They were suing phosphate fertilizer plants near the town  of Bradenton, on Florida s southwest coast, claiming that fluoride air  pollution was destroying their crops and their health. Thirty-eight-year-old  Sadtler was their courtroom scientific expert. The Florida farmers hoped  that a verdict of fluoride poisoning in Donora might help their own court  case and worried that the Donora deaths would be blamed instead on sulfur  dioxide, a much less toxic pollutant that at the time was being generated in  large volumes by the coal used to heat homes.   "The Bradenton farmers called and said, "Don't let them call it sulfur  dioxide,'" Sadtler told me. They feared that if Pennsylvania's industrialists  could point the finger at sulfur dioxide produced by Donora's coal-burning  citizens, instead of industry's fluoride emissions, then there would be no  one to blame for the disaster. " All the culprits in the country at that time  wanted to call it sulfur dioxide," Sadtler recalled. By blaming air pollution  on sulfur dioxide, the industrial polluters were safe; fluoride, on the other  hand, was much more likely to be blamed on metal smelters and manu-  facturing plants, and could lead to convictions in court.' 3 (Today the  fluoride researcher and activist Mike Connett describes sulfur dioxide as  the Lee Harvey Oswald of air pollution. Like Oswald, sulfur dioxide is a  convenient scapegoat and, like Oswald, it is highly     PONORA     121     unlikely that sulfur dioxide could accomplish all that it is blamed for.)  Sadtler thought that the farmers were probably right. He had earlier  investigated some big sulfur dioxide pollution incidents, and he felt  that the damage in Donora sounded a lot worse than sulfur dioxide  ever caused, he said.   Now, treading Donora s cobbled streets, Sadtler continued gath-  ering clues. When the Donora townspeople talked, he watched their  mouths. Many had teeth that were badly mottled, he said. Sadtler  knew that the mottling — the white blotches and chalky marks that  appeared on teeth — was known as dental fluorosis. He knew that such  dental fluorosis was an indication that a community had been exposed  to fluoride over a long period of time and was a cardinal sign of  fluoride poisoning. Scientists call such long-term and moderate  exposure chronic. Larger acute exposures, on the other hand, such as  burns or serious lung damage, are the sort of fluoride poisoning that  might occur during an industrial accident. Sadtler even joked about  the dismal dental situation he found in Donora, where many workers  were entirely toothless. They did not have any tooth problem with the  employees in the smelter, Sadtler said, because when they went to  work they put their teeth in the locker. No tooth problem. But people  outside [the smelter] did have the mottling.   As Sadtler approached the Donora town hall, more people passed.  He heard several ugly hacking coughs. Respiratory disease such as  pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, and dyspnea (shortness of breath) is  another obvious sign of chronic fluoride poisoning." He soon learned  that the mill town and the surrounding county had a notorious  reputation among local people and doctors, even within smoky,  industrial Pennsylvania, for lung problems and respiratory disease."   There were lots of respiratory problems in the area, said the  Donora resident Gladys Shempp. Everybody was always sneezing  and carrying on. But they took it for granted, that was just part of life.   Sadtler soon had a third clue to the health of Donora citizens. He  learned that arthritis was unusually common in the town. The scientist  knew that fluoride was stored in bones as well as teeth; the Danish  scientist Roholm had linked fluoride to arthritis-like symptoms. Steel  mills added a fluoride mineral called fluorspar     122     CHAPTER NINE     to help flux and draw the steel from the molten ore. Fluoride was among  the worst pollutants of the U.S. steel industry and the subject of millions of  dollars in legal claims against steel mills around the country." The Donora  zinc plants also gave off copious fluoride fumes. Working in the steel and  zinc mills, or simply living in Donora where the poison was breathed each  day, had produced very obvious physical effects, both in the teeth and in  the bones, of the local people he met, Sadtler said.'   Philip Sadtler was not the only new scientist in Donora that day. News  of the disaster had electrified the captains of U.S. industry. They quickly  dispatched their top lieutenants to western Pennsylvania. That Sunday  night, while Donora s firefighters gave oxygen to suffocating residents,  twenty-eight miles to the north telephones started to ring in  Pittsburgh — home to the U.S. Steel Corporation and the giant Aluminum  Company of America. Industrialists knew that the Donora disaster might  get much worse. In the wee hours on Sunday morning, U.S. Steel  executives had placed an emergency call to the Mellon Institute, whose  director, Ray Weidlein, had answered the telephone that weekend. There  was already a growing national agitation against pollution, Weidlein knew.  The steel industry had reaped record profits in 1947 and 1948. Yet almost  no effort was being made to staunch the torrent of raw chemical pollution  spilling into waterways and filling the nations skies. Just three days before  the Donora disaster Colliers magazine had reported, with stunning  prescience: It is an American habit to poison our air as flagrantly as we  have poisoned our water. . . . Given the right weather conditions enough  poisonous fumes are poured into the air every day to produce a great  disaster. It happened once in Belgium. Now European nations have air  pollution control. Should we wait until some appalling catastrophe happens  here?'   An aggressive investigation of pollution from the Donora factories  might place legal responsibility for the deaths squarely on the smelters,  costing millions in victim compensation and requiring expensive new  pollution-control equipment in fluoride-emitting industries — not just in  Donora, but across the country. "It would have been very hard on chemical  plants. It would have been hard on the steel industry, it would have been  hard on the aluminum industry, said Philip Sadtler.     DONORA     123     There was another worry. Both the U.S. Army and the Atomic  Energy Commission (AEC) had a secret and vital interest in the  outcome of the Donora disaster, Sadder knew. Vast amounts of  fluoride gas were now needed by the AEC for the uranium-enrichment  factories that were being planned and constructed across the United  States in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Sadtler had already  measured high human blood fluoride levels among poisoned peach  farmers living near the DuPont Chamber Works plant in New Jersey,  where DuPont made top-secret fluoride compounds for the Manhattan  Project. If fluoride were fingered for the Donora deaths, it might bring  new scrutiny of worker health safety in those AEC bomb factories,  resulting in damage suits and expensive requirements for air-pollution  controls.   It would have been very hard on the Atomic Energy Commis-  sion, said Sadtler. They would have had to pay millions of dollars  in damages if [citizens] knew the real story.   Newspaper reporters were already sniffing a possible military  connection to Donora. Death Smog Eyed Closely in Washington,  headlined one story in the Pittsburgh Press. Military intelligence  officials are watching closely Pennsylvania s investigation into  causes of the mystery fog at Donora, Pa., wrote the newspapers  Washington correspondent, Tony Smith. The government, he  wrote, has given much attention to possible air contamination  around atomic energy projects, and has taken precautions to guard  against it. Other types of industry, particularly war industries, may  also cause air pollution. ... A source intimate with the operations of  central intelligence said that agency will order one of its own if the  results of Pennsylvania s arent considered satisfactory, Smith  continued. Should central intelligence investigate the Donora smog,  it would undoubtedly be an unannounced and  secret operation.   The Mellon Institute s Ray Weidlein, who had been a consultant  to the U.S. military on chemical war gases during World War I, took  swift action. On October 31, as an autumn rain fell that Sunday  morning in Donora and washed the worst of the smog away, suited  strangers began flocking to the traumatized mill town. One of the  first to arrive, at 6:00 A M that Sunday, was Wesley C. L. Hemeon  of the Mellon Institute. For the next month Hemeon would walk     124     CHAPTER NINE     Donoras streets, acting as the eyes and ears of Ray Weidlein and the many  friends of the Mellon Institute.   Hemeons first stop was an emergency meeting that Sunday afternoon  held by Donoras Board of Health. Although the meeting was closed to the  general public, the Mellon man managed to slip in. Passions ran high.  Donora doctor and health-board member William Rongaus rose and told  mill officials that the smog was just plain murder. Air pollution that night  had affected many other towns, he said, but the deaths had occurred only in  Donora and across the river in Webster. Many of the deaths were within  blocks of the U.S. Steel zinc works.   Poison gas from the zinc mill had been injuring Donoras residents  silently and insidiously since the mill opened in 1915, Rongaus told the  board members. It was not only asthmatics who had been made sick during  the disaster; there were numerous reports of normally healthy people  experiencing central-nervous-system effects, such as shaking, chronic  fatigue, dizziness, and acting crazy. Many of those symptoms would last  for months. At least one Donora woman suffered a miscarriage that  evening as well. 29 I treated many patients who were young and strong and  never had any symptoms of asthma," Dr. Rongaus stated. All complained  of severe pains in the lower chest. It seemed to me like a sort of partial  paralysis of the  diaphragm.   As he sat through the meeting, Wesley Hemeon of the Mellon Institute  grew increasingly nervous. The United Steelworkers safety director, Frank  Burke, blamed the zinc mill for fluoride and sulfur-gas pollution. Then it  got worse. The steel workers representative pointed an accusing finger at  the medical experts from the Mellon Institute. Workers trusted neither the  Mellon Institute nor health officials from the Commonwealth of  Pennsylvania to investigate the disaster, Burke announced. State health  authorities had done nothing to protect Donora citizens, despite thirty years  of lawsuits and complaints. This is worse than a catastrophe, Burke told  the Donora Council. "Twenty of your citizens are dead. Why weren't  washers used in the mill to strain poisons out of the air? We want the facts  and we are going to get them.   The president of Donoras Board of Health, Charles Stacy, agreed with  Burke — any state investigation of the smog would be a whitewash. Stacy  called for an immediate federal investigation     DONORA     125     by the U.S. Public Health Service. Like many Americans, Donora  residents had emerged from the Depression and World War II with  renewed faith in the power of the federal government and its ability to  improve living conditions. Initially, however, Washington pub-  lic-health officials had seemed reluctant to get involved in Donora.  Twice during the disaster weekend federal authorities had dismissed  frantic calls from Pennsylvania asking for government intervention.  On Saturday evening, for example, the mayor of Donora, the badly  shaken August Chambon, had declared a state of emergency and  called Washington for help. His own mother had been stricken. After  returning from shopping, she was discovered lying on the floor, with  her coat on, and a bag of cookies spilled all over beside her, gasping  for breath and in terrible pain, newspapers reported. A quick federal  response might have enabled authorities to measure the exact chemical  content of the air pollution or to draw timely blood samples. On  Sunday, however, a second plea to Washington from the state  authorities was rebuffed.   But subdued Mellon officials soon saw a silver lining in the pro-  posed federal inquiry. They faced a public -relations disaster. Anger in  Donora and Webster glowed hot as molten steel. Daily press accounts  of smog victims funerals fanned public emotion. Each shovel of earth  that fell on the lowered coffins was a drumbeat of accusation against  U.S. Steel. The first lawsuits against its subsidiary, American Steel  and Wire, were already being composed.   The stakes had suddenly become very high, industry saw. Suc-  cessful lawsuits could prove crippling to many U.S. corporations,  warned Alcoa s medical director, Dudley Irwin. He compared the  disaster's potential aftermath to the effects of the Gauley Bridge  sili-cosis deaths in West Virginia during the early 19305. "The  repercus sions of the Gauley Tunnel [sic] episode on silicosis probably  will be dwarfed by the effects of Donora on air pollution, Irwin told  the powerful trade group known as the Manufacturing Chemists  Association, whose Air Pollution Abatement Committee gathered at  the Chemists Club in New York City on January 2, 1950, in the  aftermath of the Donora disaster. "The Donora incident has not only  made the public air pollution-conscious and unduly  apprehensive, but also it has advanced opinion with regard to the  imposition of restrictive measures by many years, said Irwin. The  outcome of     126     CHAPTER NINE     the legal action arising from the Donora experience may set a pattern that  could be followed in other areas. 31   Although the cards now seemed stacked against it, industry had an ace in  the hole: a friend in Washington. Only 170 miles from the grieving mill  town, across the Allegheny Mountains in Washington, DC, the Truman  Administration was basking in the sunny afterglow of the November  election triumph. Plum jobs were going to those who had engineered the  upset victory over the Republican Thomas Dewey. One of President  Truman s most trusted deputies and a key figure in the election victory was  fellow midwesterner Oscar R. Ewing. As acting chair of the Democratic  National Committee, the Harvard-trained lawyer had raised millions of  dollars for the election campaign and had helped to craft the presidents  folksy media image of just plain Harry. 32 After the 1948 election Oscar  Ewing was reinstalled as head of the giant Federal Security Agency (FSA),  in charge of the U.S. Public Health Service.   Ewing had a very private past. For two decades he had been a top Wall  Street lawyer for Alcoa. He strolled to work at his offices on lower  Broadway in Manhattan swinging a leather briefcase embossed with the  gold letters One Wall Street. Inside were legal papers from the  powerhouse law firm of Hughes, Hubbard, and Ewing. The senior firm  member Charles Evans Hughes had been an Alcoa attorney since 1910.  Hughes would subsequently be a Republican presidential candidate and a  U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, while Oscar Ewing became one of the  most powerful attorneys in America, earning a reported Depression-era  salary of $100,000. 33   During the war Ewing had moved to Washington as Alcoa s top legal  liaison with the federal government. 34 A key wartime concern of the  aluminum manufacturers was, of course, lawsuits from workers and  communities for fluoride air-pollution damage to health and property. One  of Ewing s legal friends was lawyer Frank Ingersoll, from the same  Pittsburgh firm as Frank Seamans, head of the Fluorine Lawyers  Committee (see chapter 8).   The old friends kept in touch with Ewing, even after he became a  Washington public servant. A Dear Jack letter from Frank Ingersoll in  June 1947, for example, sought Ewing s help in getting a friend appointed  to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 35 Dear Frank, Ewing responded,  I would be only too happy to help any-     DONORA     127     one in whom you, [Alcoa president] Roy Hunt and George Gibbons are  interested""   In the grim days of early November 1948, Ewings Public Health Service  now echoed industry s response to the disaster. The same week of the  Donora funerals, the U.S. Steel Corporation had taken out a newspaper  advertisement denying responsibility for the deaths. We are certain that  the principal offender in the tragedy was the unprecedentedly heavy fog  which blanketed the Borough for five days, the company wrote. That same  week federal PHS official John Bloomfield also pinned responsibility on  the weather, telling newspapers the smog had been an "atmospheric  freak." 37   The Mellon Institute was backing away from direct involvement in the  disaster investigation because it wanted "no legal entangle-ment. 38 Wesley  Hemeon told industry leaders in Donora on Novem ber 8 that he now  favored an investigation by the Public Health Service. A week later, at the  annual meeting of the Mellon Institute s Industrial Hygiene Foundation, the  PHS announced that it, too, had reversed course. James Townsend of the  PHS announced that Donora would be the first investigation of an  air-pollution disaster by the agency and its biggest project since their  aftermath studies of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. 39   The PHS chose Helmuth Schrenk to head its investigation. Schrenk was  a senior scientist from the Pittsburgh office of the federal Bureau of Mines,  located only blocks from Ray Weidleins Mellon Institute. And although it  was not made public then, nor would the Donora citizens learn of his dual  identify for more than half a century, Helmuth Schrenk was a poison-gas  expert who had worked as a secret consultant during the war for the  Manhattan Project atomic bomb program. His special expertise was  fluoride gas. 40   On November 30 Helmuth Schrenk and his PHS team moved into the  municipal Borough Building in downtown Donora." It was not a moment  too soon. A day earlier Philip Sadtler had seized newspaper headlines. He  had completed his investigation, reporting that fluorine gas from  industrial plants had killed and injured the Donora residents. Other toxic  gases — including sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide — had been in the air  that night and contributed to health problems, he stated, but none of them  had been present in quantities to kill. 42     128     CHAPTER NINE     Numerous mills in the area used large quantities of fluoride-containing  raw materials, Sadtler wrote. Blood levels of the dead and injured showed  12 to 25 times the normal quantity of fluorine," he reported. Another  symptom of acute fluoride poisoning that night, Sadtler noted, included  the widely reported appearance of dyspnea, a shortness of breathing similar  to asthma. Fluoride had been polluting Donora for years, Sadtler concluded.  He reported mottled teeth in Donora residents, the destruction of farm  crops, high fluoride content in vegetation, crippled farm animals, and the  etching of windows by fluoride gas 43   Sadtler publicly sided with those Donora residents who blamed the zinc  works for their long-standing health problems and the envi ronmental  damage. The Danish scientist Kaj Roholm had identified zinc ore as  being high in fluoride content. Ironically, the same zinc ore used in the  Meuse Valley in Belgium, where 63 people had been killed in that  industrial disaster in 1930, may also have poisoned Donoras citizens.  Sadtler spoke with an official from the New York chemical testing firm of  Ledoux & Company, which analyzed metal ores imported into the United  States. That official told him that the Donora mill had been "smelting  high-fluorine content zinc ore from the Meuse Valley, Sadtler reported. 44  After the Donora mill began using the Belgian ores, U.S. Steel had asked  Ledoux & Company to stop analyzing the ore for fluorides, noted Sadtler.  That was told to me by one of the heads of the company," he added.   But Sadtler still had some lingering questions about the sequence of  events in Donora that weekend. Temperature inversions and bad fogs were  common during the fall in Donora and along the Monongahela Valley.  Why had so many people been killed and injured that weekend? Why had  the deaths occurred in such a short period of time? At one point nine people  died in six hours. Most deaths happened on Friday night and before noon  on Saturday. Yet the weather was just as bad on Saturday evening, and the  zinc mill did not cease operations until Sunday morning."   "It was really very queer," said Donora's Red Cross director, Cora  Vernon, who was prepared for more deaths on Saturday evening. The fog  was as black and as nasty as ever that night, or worse, but all of a sudden  the calls for a doctor just seemed to trickle out and stop. I dont believe we  had a call after midnight, she told The New Yorker.     DONORA     129     Sadtler suspected that something had suddenly produced an  extraordinary amount of fluoride that Friday night. He wondered  whether top-secret military work had been going on in the Donora  mills. It might have been that they were smelting something for the  Atomic Energy Commission, he speculated. Perhaps, he said, the  Donora mills were being used that night to roast not zinc ore, but  uranium tetrafluoride, to "drive off the fluorine, so that they could get  the uranium."   Investigative reports fifty years later by Pete Eisler in USA Today  and subsequent disclosures by the Department of Energy, all since  Sadtler's death, have revealed that private industrial plants were  routinely used for secret nuclear work in the 1940s and 1950s.  Although none of these disclosures has mentioned Donora, many have  revealed that workers were frequently injured by that work and rarely  informed about health risks.   Dr. Weidlein Goes to Washington   SADTLERS VERDICT OF fluoride poisoning in Donora maddened  industry. An account of his findings was published on December 18,  1948, in the leading trade magazine, Chemical and Engineering News.  Retaliation was swift. Sadtler heard immediately from the magazine's  Washington editor, who told him that he could not accept any more  reports about Donora. Although Sadtler had been a frequent  con-tributor — and his grandfather had been a founding member of the  American Chemical Society, which publishes Chemical and Engi-  neering News — the editor explained that the director of the Society  was now none other than the Mellon Institute s Ray Weidlein. He told  me Dr. Weidlein had been to visit," Sadtler said. "Why would the  Mellon Institute, supposedly a nonbiased, nonpolitical organization  do such a thing? Well, U.S. Steel, the owners of the zinc works, had an  influence with the Mellon Institute, so it only took a telephone call to  have Dr. Weidlein go to Washington."   Robert Kehoe also attacked Sadtler. His Kettering Laboratory had  been hired by U.S. Steel to conduct a private investigation of the  disaster, and it would gather medical evidence to fight lawsuits by  victims family members and smog survivors. Dr. Kehoe fired off a  blistering volley to the editor of Chemical and Engineering News,  Walter J. Murphy, on December 22 , 1948. In a letter underlined     130     CHAPTER NINE     Personal and Confidential, Kehoe called Sadtlers conclusion of fluoride  poisoning, which had appeared in the magazine two weeks earlier, "wholly  unwarranted, almost certainly untrue, and a disservice not least to the  families and friends of the unfortunate victims. (Kehoe did not mention in  his letter, however, that he was working on behalf of U.S. Steel, which was  being sued by those same unfortunate victims. )   The analysis of the blood for fluoride is a very difficult procedure, Kehoe  wrote, and even under conditions of severe exposure the concentrations of  fluorine in the blood [are] quite low. My associates and I believe that no  such results as have been reported here [ by Sadtler] are possible of  achievement, and therefore we regard the entire story as a deliberate lie or  as an irresponsible expression of technical ignorance or incompetence.  Kehoe was careful to keep his attack anonymous. Since I and my  associates are engaged in investigations at Donora I do not wish to be  quoted in any way in this connection, lest I be suspected of having drawn  conclusions before facts are available, he added.   Murphy passed the smoldering letter to his boss, executive editor James  M. Crowe, who responded to Kehoe on January 7, 1949 I have heard from  Sadtler recently, Crowe wrote Kehoe, and he insists that he has made tests  on the blood of victims of the disaster and on vegetation, etc., in the area  and that he has chemical evidence of unsafe concentrations of fluoride. He  claims that he volunteered to check his analytical methods and results with  the representatives of the public health agencies, but that they were  uncooperative.... I note from your letter that the analysis of fluorine in  blood is quite difficult and that you feel Sadtler could not have obtained the  results indicated. It seems to me that this is the one point, at least, where  scientific methods could be checked and agreement reached on whether the  results are or are not accurate. It is not our intention to become embroiled in  this matter and permit our pages to become a battleground for this case, but  for our own information we would be interested to know the results of any  analytical findings of your investigation."   Kehoe would send no analytical results to the magazine. Secretly his  Kettering Laboratory had now obtained a similar blood fluoride result to  Sadtlers. Kehoe s first letter attacking Sadtler had been     DONORA     131     ccd to Dr. Dudley Irwin, Alcoa s medical director. Alcoa was then  sponsoring Kehoe s fluoride research at Kettering and may have been  the master puppeteers in the Donora investigation.   Kehoe s Donora deputy, Dr. William Ashe, had reported earlier  that summer on the crippling disability fluoride air pollution had  caused among aluminum workers inside Alcoa s smelting plant in  Niagara Falls, New York. Ashe thought that poison gas had caused  the Donora deaths. "My assumption that it was a gas which was  hydrolyzed in the lung and produced its pathology some little time  after it was inspired is based on a very superficial check of the clinical  picture as seen by two doctors and two patients, Ashe told Kehoe.  ( When two PHS officials visited Cincinnati to discuss the disaster  investigation, Ashe advised Kehoe to keep this speculation private. I  think that it would be wise to refuse to let them know what our  guesses are, he said.)" 8   Following the disaster, Alcoa had quietly obtained a blood sample  from one of the first Donora victims, Mike Dorance. On December 30,  1948, in a letter marked "CONFIDENTIAL," Alcoa reported the  results of that blood analysis to Dr. Ashe. The letter, which was also  cc'd to Dr. Dudley Irwin, was written by the head of Alcoa's analytical  division, H. V. Churchill. Alcoa s fears about Donora, and the awful  parallel with what Philip Sadder had found, are wholly evident in this  confidential note, written on company stationery:   "Dr. Irwin suggested that we analyze the sample of blood for fluo-  rine content, and we have just completed that analysis. This sample  was received by us and contains 20.3 p.p.m. fluorine," Churchill wrote.  I trust that you will find this information of some use to you"  (emphasis in original)."   This blood fluoride level is, of course, almost exactly what Sadtler  had reported finding in Donora victims — the data that Robert Kehoe  had objected so strenuously to seeing published. Dr. Ashe responded  to Alcoa on January 3, 1949. He pointed out that no fluoride had been  found in Mike Dorance s lung tissue, the only organ tested, and that a  volume of fluid squeezed from the lung had been too small to test.  Please be assured that we are grateful to you for this data and know  that it is completely reliable information. The only problem is: Where  did the fluorine come from? Ashe wrote to Churchill.'   The fluorine finding clearly had some people worried, noted     CHAPTER NINE     scientist Kathleen M. Thiessen, an expert on risk analysis who reviewed  many of the Kettering papers on the Donora investigation for this book.  Mike Dorance s fluoride-saturated blood, however, could not be regarded  as proof that fluoride was the killer that week -end, Thiessen said. If  Dorance had inhaled lethal doses of fluoride that night, she would have  expected to see some measurement of fluoride in his lung tissue, she  cautioned.' Nevertheless, she described the blood fluoride level  measured by Alcoa as " excessive" and enough to kill. That s high, she  said. If that was all you had, you could say it was highly likely that person  died of fluoride poisoning."   One more dagger was secretly pointed at Philip Sadtler. When he had  first arrived in the mill town, Sadtler met with a deputy from  Pennsylvania's Health Department to offer his services as an investigator.'  But the official quickly attempted to head Sadtler off, he said. "I went to the  Borough Hall, it was about 7:30 on a Friday night, met the deputy and he  said V I will see you in my office in Harrisburg [the distant state capital] on  Monday, recalled Sadtler. That killed everything. I had nothing to go on. I  was quite upset and there was a schoolteacher who heard that, and after a  few minutes' conversation he went into the borough council and told  [them] they should hear me. So I told the borough council what I knew and  they appointed me an official investigator. So when I came back a week  later, the union had already appropriated $20,000 [sic] to investigate or pay  for an investigation, but somebody inserted in pen in the minutes at his  own expense. Therefore I was not going to get anything from that  $20.000. ' 5   Unknown to Sadtler, federal authorities had privately warned the  Borough Council not to work with the independent investigator. PHS  investigator Duncan A. Holaday reported back to officials in Washington  that Sadtler has broken into print previously in somewhat the same role, as  one who could solve complicated problems quickly for a sufficient  monetary consideration. Local officials had been given a choice, Holaday  added. He explained to them, The Public Health Service ... could not work  in cooperation with a private individual who had been hired on a fee basis.  It was suggested that if they so desired I would submit to them a list of  competent industrial hygiene consultants, any of whom would give them  an honest appraisal of the situation. "     10     The Public Health Service Investigation   

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