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Pollution caused by a Chemical Factory in the Westphalian town of Iserlohn (1839-1852)

With German industrialization and urbanization only starting between 1815 and 1866, environmentalism as a movement to protect nature against industrial pollution did not yet play a role. The passages reproduced below, which date from 1839-1852 and concern neighbors' complaints about a Westphalian chemical factory, show that problems certainly did occur and that governments initiated strong measures in turn. But usually nothing really improved, except that in this case the factory was eventually closed in 1853.

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I. Letter from the Royal Government, Arnsberg, March 1839

To the Royal Landrat*,
The Honorable Herr Schütte,
Hochwohlgeboren zu Iserlohn

In response to the report of February 18 of this year regarding the complaint by Eickmann and interested persons concerning the chemical factory of the materials-manufacturer L. Stark, we inform Your Honor, while returning the attachments submitted by the latter, that, according to the expert opinion of the Medizinalrath** of our collegium, the vapors and fumes generated and spread in the manufacturing of sulfur-saltpeter and hydrochloric acids are dangerous to human health and harmful to the growth of plants. Moreover, since the grievances cannot be sufficiently remedied by suggestions made by the district physician Dr. Ploettner in the expert opinion dated September 9 of last year, namely the building of a wall, the operation of the factory in question is no longer permissible.

The above-mentioned acid is among the products which, in accordance with §693 Tit. 20 T1 2 of the Allgemeines Landrecht*** can be manufactured only with permission from the territorial police. It must therefore strike us as all the more peculiar that the local police office allowed the operation of the factory in question without a more detailed permit after we had explicitly ordered the closure of the same already on August 20, 1830. We therefore instruct you not only to hold the local authorities accountable for this and to have them submit their explanation within four weeks, but also to forbid Stark from operating his chemical factory hereafter on pain of a fine of 50 Thalers, and to have him investigated and punished for his illegal conduct in accordance with §694 Tit. 20 T1 2 of the Allgemeines Landrecht. We look forward to hearing about the implementation of this order in your report within the indicated time period, and we leave it up to you to inform the complainants of the submission of January 18.

Arnsberg, March 24, 1839.
Royal Government, Department of the Interior

* Head of an administrative district – trans.
** Officer of medicine and health – trans.
*** General Territorial Law – trans.

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