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Broadside against the Construction of a Chemical Factory in the Ruhr Industrial Basin (c. 1874)

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Depending on the raw materials used and on the production method, the manufacture of chemicals generates a wide range of noxious fumes in the form of hydrogen sulfide gas, hydrogen chloride gas, hydrochloric acid fumes, etc. These emissions, influenced by temperature and wind direction, spoil the air for up to 2000 meters and more, have a harmful effect on human health, and affect vegetation or even destroy it completely. Countless expert reports and court findings have ascertained that gases emitted from chemical factories destroy plants and trees; additionally, upon closer observation of the sites, the layperson can see, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the adverse consequences of acidic fumes. If the wind blows in the corresponding direction, sometimes a short period – even a few hours – will suffice to kill green and woody plants. Above all, the fumes affect the blossoms of field crops and fruit trees within a considerable radius. Once they have been exposed to chemical fumes, they fall off prematurely. Here, it is also worth emphasizing that interested parties often have difficulty presenting evidence of longer-range damage – especially to blossoms – if it comes to damage claims or suits. For expert witnesses usually cannot be certain of the actual cause of the damages inflicted, especially since, according to the law, in determining the facts of the case, only a brief period of time can pass between the infliction of damage and their discovery; and in the course of legal proceedings, this matter cannot always be given adequate consideration.

Meadows and clover fields are damaged by the vapors in two respects: first, they are stunted in their growth, and second, whether fresh or dried, they become unsuitable as fodder for livestock. At the Seventh Meeting of German Foresters, which was held in Dresden last August, Dr. Schröder, a lecturer at the Forestry Academy in Tharant (Saxony), gave a presentation that drew attention to the fact that sulphurous acids – which, as is generally known, form during sodium carbonate production – have an adverse effect on leaf structures; he also stated that he had undertaken to establish this through countless chemical studies. The findings have shown that the acids destroy the chlorophyll substance, impairing the leaves’ capacity for transpiration to such an extent that they must inevitably wither, which obviously causes the death of the woody plants [to which they are attached]. Inspection of the Rheinau chemical factory reveals that acidic fumes escaping from the factory premises and chimneys have had a devastating impact on the surrounding forests and gardens. During humid or calm weather conditions, the entire area is almost entirely enveloped within 15 to 30 minutes by these toxic fumes, which assume the form of a stinking and virtually impenetrable fog, and since the fumes weigh more than pure atmospheric air, the mists descend to the ground, gradually killing any vegetation. The resulting damage defies description. Since the factory management has nevertheless refused to grant the injured parties any compensation – something other chemical factories in the region do willingly – the forest and property owners have been forced to attain their rights through legal proceedings, about whose outcome they had no doubts, given the significant amount of supporting evidence and the example of similar cases that lead to convictions. As mentioned, the Rheinau Company has brushed off the amicable settlement offered to it by the injured parties out of hand, proof that the neighboring property owners in this case in Horst probably cannot reckon with any accommodating concessions.

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