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

In the nineteenth century, Germany’s chemical industry caused massive health problems for workers and those living near chemical factories. Sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and hydrochloric acid were among the worst offenders. This broadside is the first example of an organized attempt to stop the construction of a chemical factory – in this case, a factory that was to be built in the town of Horst, located in the Ruhr industrial district of western Germany. The authors of this pamphlet concede that a new factory would mean new jobs, but they also point to the need to protect local agriculture from possible pollution. In their minds, the dangers of a new factory clearly outweigh the benefits.

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Danger Ahead!
The construction of a chemical plant on the Ruhr River.

An appeal to the inhabitants of Horst and its environs.

The Rheinau chemical factory in Mannheim has now submitted an application for a license to construct a chemical plant in Horst on the Ruhr, and it is high time, in the general interest, especially the interest of the inhabitants of Horst and its environs, to point out the dangers and disadvantages that usually result from the manufacture of chemical substances.

About three weeks ago, a party who seems to be quite in favor of the plant used the Essener Zeitung to communicate very promising words about the proposed factory and its intention to concern itself “particularly” with the production of sodium carbonate.

According to this, the factory intends to manufacture not only sodium carbonate but other chemicals as well. Based on this same newspaper article, the proposed chemical factory is supposed to elevate the diminished prosperity of Horst and its environs. Certainly, given today’s depressed economic conditions, which are causing our region’s main industry to languish so severely, one would joyfully welcome the establishment of a healthy industrial sector that fostered general prosperity; however, if one thoroughly examines the facts on the basis of the materials available, it cannot be concluded that the construction of a chemical factory in a populated area that is partially dependent upon farming would be beneficial to the general well-being. Instead, on the contrary, it appears that the facility in question would be more apt to inflict considerable damage upon that community or perhaps even ruin it. [ . . . ]

That is to say, the information gathered suggests that the proposed factory will not turn out to be a source of prosperity, but rather a source of toxic chemicals that will spoil both air and water, rather than shower us with blessings. [ . . . ] Anyone who wishes to form an independent opinion about the manufacture of sodium carbonate and the resulting damages should visit the sites of Schalke and Duisburg, where a closer look, and the statements of those living in the vicinity of local chemical factories, will bring the facts clearly to light. [ . . . ]

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