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Industrial Nightmares

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Since the first primitive tool, human invention has changed the way we live and determined the kind of work we do. Industry born of innovation is designed to improve our lives, but sometimes it leads to tragedy and heartbreak.

The Oppau Factory Explosion: On the morning of May 21, 1921, workers at the BASF nitrate plant in Oppau, Germany, were preparing to break up gigantic blocks of chemical fertilizer with dynamite. It was a routine procedures that had been performed tens of thousands times without incident. This time, though, 9,000,000 pounds of mixed ammonium nitrate and sulphate exploded with tremendous power. The factory was blown to pieces and half of Oppau was destroyed in the blast. The explosion killed 561 workers and residents of the town. It was later revealed that the factory had recently started using a different recipe with higher concentrations of ammonium nitrate in the mix. Although efforts were made to reduce the risk of future explosions, every decade since has been marked by explosions of ammonium nitrate somewhere in the world.

The Meuse Valley Killer Fog: On December 2, 1930, an unusual weather front trapped a layer of air under a layer of heavy fog in Belgium's Meuse Valley over a 15-mile long stretch of farms and factories. Unbeknownst to the residents, deadly fluorine gases from the factories at the northeast end of the valley were trapped in the fog. People began to notice dead birds and pets along the northern hills. The air smelled strange and burned the eyes and throat. On the 3rd day of heavy fog, people began to die with the elderly and sick succumbing first. 60 people died and 1,000 became seriously ill. Death rates rocketed to 10 times normal. On the 6th day the fog lifted, but residents of the Meuse Valley finally recognized the potential dangers of living next to heavy industry.

2002, 46 min 45 s

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