SMOKE CITY: A STORY OF REDEMPTION Essay

This essay has a total of 2562 words and 13 pages.

SMOKE CITY: A STORY OF REDEMPTION





INTRODUCTION
The 21st century is an age of environmental awareness. We have commissions and agencies
that measure our pollution in minutiae level parts per million. There is study after study
of the affects of not only elemental health pollution, but also mental health pollution.
Although there is no doubt of the importance of this era of hyper-awareness of this
movement, it is a new phenomena in the spectrum of history. In the United States, a
vanguard in environmental awareness has only seriously started legislating pollution
controls for the protection of its citizens in the past thirty years. Many detractors,
even today, feel that it is a loosing battle and that regulation of pollution control is
indirect conflict with the industrial machine that is the backbone of the United States
economy. However, there is one example of a region of this country that demonstrates not
only the successful combination of environmental control and business, but this
relationship was started forty years before the nations first pollution regulations were
drafted to Congress.

Pittsburgh's story is one of suffering and redemption that no city, no community no region
can claim to be more tragic and hopeful in its fight against pollution. A city founded in
a river valley rich with resources; central access by water, rail and road; and integral
to the key to the creation of a nation; Pittsburgh knew days when no vegetation grew from
the soil and the sky was permanent midnight twenty four hours a day. That was life in the
monikered "Smoke City" until citizens and businesses took fate into their own hands and
cleaned themselves up. Their struggle endured hardship and death, but the residents of
Pittsburgh found themselves after two hundred years of darkness living in one of the
cleanest major cities in the country.


HISTORY
Before Europeans traveled the Monongahela to the confluence of the "Three Rivers" of the
Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio, Pittsburgh was a sparsely populated area even by the
Native Americans. At best it was a rendezvous point for trade, claimed by no one due to
the difficulty in traversing through large waterways and steep hills. For colonists, the
trek over the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains was enough to make the Pittsburgh region
almost unreachable.

On November 23, 1753, an officer of the Virginia Militia—Major George Washington—sent
to give warning to Britain's enemy, the French forces, on the Ohio river a warning as a
precursor to the French & Indian War-— noted in his journal the confluence of the major
rivers. "This location is extremely well suited for a fort as it has absolute command of
the rivers and all its terrain." He built Fort Prince George, which was lost to the French
within the year and renamed Fort Duquesne.

The location of the fort was so remote and difficult to attack that it was largely ignored
throughout the war. Three years later, George Washington made his attempt to reclaim the
fort and the garrison was so confident of the geography of the fort that they had let the
wood dry rot. Rather than risking musket fire burning the garrison to the ground, the
French surrendered and abandoned the fort. It was then renamed Fort Pitt.

It was in these modest beginnings that we already see the development and assumption of
the power of the locality and the lack of gratitude and care given to the land that
offered so much getting nothing in return.

With the birth of Pittsburgh, the city, was also the origin of its smoky heritage. As
early as 1753, coal was the recognized as the most readily available and best heating
source in the area. The region had an almost limitless supply of coal. The voluminous
clouds of blackness were seen as advertisements of the new city's industrious population
in the 18th century. The geographic design on the confluence and high south hills kept the
smoke gathered over the city.

Between 1780-1830 new settlers carved arable farm land from the surrounding forest and
hills to become a self-sufficient community from the rest of the country, but
agriculturally the Allegheny region was not a thriving as the central plains of
Pennsylvania or the flat lands of Virginia.

The city's growth was fed by its coal, iron, zinc, and oil and expedited by its major
waterways giving easy access from the Mississippi to the Potomac. The city stood as an
antithesis to the pastoral values of most of the frontier. One visitor noted in 1829,
"After two weeks through white clear, cheerful-looking villages to come all at once upon
dirty streets dark houses and filth enveloped in an atmosphere of smoke and soot which
blighted everything in sight, was not a pleasant transition."

The early 1800s saw no relief from smoke, as the pig iron foundries, rolling mills, coke
furnaces, blast furnaces and hot ovens took over the landscape of the city, country and
region. The concept of a new industrial aesthetic even spawned an artistic movement as
popular as the pastoral art of the Hudson Valley school, creating a Mon Valley school of
art showing the romance of steel complexes and starry nights above the glowing furnaces.

The growth of the nation also grew the demand on goods, which Pittsburgh had in endless
supply. The chief commodity was still coal.


PROBLEM
The impact of the demand for goods was exacerbated by the railroads, which connected
Atlantic to Pacific, and made Pittsburgh's resources a cookie jar that every American
could reach his hand in.

The demand was so great during the birth of the industrial revolution that the population
of Western Pennsylvania tripled from five million in 1850 to fifteen million in 1870.
These communities, mostly immigrants, lived in poorly organized company "Patch" towns,
rarely with any sanitation concerns. The human pollution alone ruined many watersheds and
disease like cholera, dysentery and cholera were pandemic.

The coal industry's major impacts were numerous. Strip mining scared the Earth. The mine
waste, or gob piles, filled streams with acid drainage turning waterways rust-orange. But
worst of all was the smokes.

Carbon is required to make iron and steel. Historically, iron had been made with charcoal.
However, "coke" made from carbon rich coal of the Pittsburgh region made the iron process
cheaper, faster and stronger. Burning down coal created Coke and taking only the remaining
carbon and these factories were able to operate within city limits for convenience. To
this day Pittsburgh's Connersville Coke is considered the best in the world for making
steel. Ovens ran twenty-four hours a day to keep up with demand. The soot from these
massive coke oven stacks were known to blight even the vibrant colors of fall.

Throughout the country, trains pumped coal into their ovens and mixed a combination of
pure white snowy steam with the acrid ebony smoke of coal soot. The continuous use of rail
in Western PA had as much an effect on the countryside as coke ovens.

While all cities in the beginning of the twentieth century dealt with issues of a growing
urban population with issues like sewage, Pittsburgh had to deal with similar problems and
more. In 1909, the city installed its first sewage filtration system which dropped typhoid
deaths from 15 million a year (six times the national average) to 500,000. Meanwhile, the
city—which sat on the confluence of three of the largest rivers in the country—did not
have a safe water source. An estimated 2.5 tons of sulfuric acid flowed into the Ohio from
mine drainage. Spring water smelled of eggs and ran yellow from the ground. The soot from
the stacks blanketed everything, and any water source not spoiled by sulfur and gob, was
mixed with the thick black residue of the sky.

It was noted at the turn of the century that Pittsburgh Fashion was a national term used
to describe color schemes of dark muted colors used by local inhabitant since bright
colors were unable to be worn outdoors for long without taking on a dingy appearance.


SOLUTION
The first attempts at solving what writer James Parton called in 1866, "Hell with the lid
off," came shortly after the civil war. Farmers had complained that the industrial
pollution was affecting their crop and livestock. Some citizens also complained about the
lack of potable water for themselves as well as their animals.
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