London (1952, December)
12,000 people died from the so-called killer fogs of London, produced by the condensation of water on the daily 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and pollutants produced by coal-burning industrial furnaces and home heating systems in the city. The fatal conditions began on Thursday, December 4. A high-pressure system moved over Britain, bringing dry air, cold temperatures, and light winds. During the night, the winds stopped and the Thames River basin experienced a severe temperature inversion, trapping cold air near the ground beneath a warm humid air layer. Heavy fog then began to form. For the next four days, tons of particulate matter from the furnaces entered this air mass, turning the sky yellow, amber, brown, and finally almost black. The air consequently became a blinding, suffocating cloud of gas that choked breathing passages and stung eyes with enough acidity to cause skin irritation. Cars were stopped in the roads as visibility dropped to a few feet. Air poured through window cracks and under doorways to permeate homes and buildings. Thousands, especially those with respiratory trouble, became seriously ill. The British Committee on Air Pollution reported, “The number of deaths over and above those normally expected in the last three weeks of December indicates some 4,000 people died of the ‘smog.’” As many as 8,000 others died later as a result of respiratory complications. Since this disaster, stricter restrictions have been placed on coal-burning furnaces. Anti-pollution laws are strongly enforced, and today London’s “pea-soupers” have been nearly eliminated.
New York City, New York, USA (1966, November 27)
About 400 people perished because of respiratory failure and heart attacks caused by extreme smog conditions.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (1975, November)
A four-day-long fog may have caused the deaths of 14 people.
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