MONONGAHELA – A floating science laboratory has docked in Monongahela to provide educational cruises for teachers and school students monitoring the quality of the post-industrial Monongahela River.
The Explorer, which is owned by Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. in Homestead, arrived Sunday at the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium to begin offering a course focusing on environmental science on the Mon.
“This is a pet project of our board,” said Suzi Bloom, director of education for Rivers of Steel.
She said the boat has been “so centric to Allegheny County,” meaning that students from school districts in the middle-Monongahela River area had to spend half of their day on a school bus to attend its programming.
“They want us to start working our way out (of the Golden Triangle) to provide education,” Bloom said.
She has been working with various groups, including the Donora Historical Society, to include some of the region’s industrial heritage into the lesson plans.
The cruises will be taking place as the historical society prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the Donora smog. The smog sickened many and killed more than 20 people over a Halloween weekend in 1948 when heavy air trapped pollution from Donora’s zinc mill and other sources in the Mon Valley. The disaster has been credited with leading to the nation’s first clean-air laws.
Nearly 800 students are expected to step aboard the Explorer before the boat begins its return trip to Pittsburgh Oct. 24.
The students will be testing water samples and sampling life on the riverbed, as well as receiving a history lesson on the steel industry that defined the Mon Valley before it collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s.
They also will discuss plant life along the river and birds and their importance to the river’s food chain.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what to expect,” Bloom said.
The boat, formerly known in Pittsburgh as RiverQuest, was acquired in August 2016 by Rivers of Steel. It is considered to be among the most advanced green-energy boats in the nation, the group has said.
The public is invited to an open house on the vessel from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 13 with a paid admission to a festival that weekend at the aquatorium.
The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area was created by Congress in 1996 to preserve resources related to Big Steel and its spin-off industries between 1875 and 1980.