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

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In its application for a license, the Rheinau Company says that only one building will be located within a short distance of the factory planned in Horst. Wholly apart from the fact that short and long distances are totally relative terms – as is generally known, the harmful gases possibly extend for up to 2,000 meters – there are at least 20 to 30 residential buildings within a 500-meter radius of the projected factory premises. Additionally, the workers’ settlement of “Neuschottland,” which consists of approximately 50 dwellings and gardens and approximately 400 residents, is located a mere 400 meters, in the prevailing direction of the wind, from the proposed industrial property. Many workers already have to breathe poor air during working hours; should one actually pollute their air even during recreation time? Responding to an inquiry on this issue, the mayor of Seckenheim – where, as mentioned before, the Rheinau factory is currently located – declared quite frankly that a factory like Rheinau did not belong in a place with fields and gardens, and that it needed to be in a heath where nothing grew. Moreover, he said, due to the current Poor Law and the Law on the Freedom of Movement, the factory would only be a drawback for the community, because the workers’ occupation was very unhealthy and would led them to sacrifice their health for the sake of relatively high wages, and that this would occur at the expense of the subsequent budget for poor relief.

On the part of the doctors, the emphasis is, among other things, on the fact that acidic vapors have very irritating and detrimental effect on the respiratory organs. According to the laws of science, any alien admixture to the air, especially the admixture of caustic substances that irritate the mucous membranes, is harmful to human health. Furthermore, the hydrogen sulfide gases developing in sodium carbonate sludge have a very worrisome and negative effect, especially when waste (the so-called sodium carbonate sludge) is piled in large heaps. [ . . . ] The chemical analyses of effluent generated from the production of sodium carbonate in several cases reveal the following contents: hydrochloric acid, iron oxide, manganese, and sulfuric acid, substances apt to affect drinking water adversely. If the aforementioned cesspits were really established and operated on the grounds purchased and earmarked for construction of the factory, terrain that contains high-lying gravel beds, then who could have any doubt, given the elevated location of this piece of property and the composition of the soil, that toxic water would nonetheless seep through the gravel and reach the surrounding wells and the nearby Ruhr river? As a result, this effluent would spoil the drinking water for several water pipes, i.e., for thousands of people.

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