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HEALTH HAZARDS OF THE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY
Chemistry has only taken its place as an exact branch of science, based upon accurate experimental investigation, within comparatively recent times, but its origin dates back to the time of the earliest philosophical studies.
The ancient Phænicians, Egyptians, and Greeks had a knowledge of several substances the preparation of which, from ores, did not differ in any material degree from the processes used at the present time. These people were acquainted with the production of gold, silver, lead, copper, and tin from which they made various articles as statues, cups, and ornaments; the processes for manufacturing soap, glass, leather, and certain organic and inorganic colors were also known and carried on in the earliest times.
We find records of the application in medicine of many chemical products at a comparatively early period; the Arabians appear to have been the first race who tried to prepare new medicines by chemical methods. Gabor, who lived in the eighth century and was the most noted Arabian chemist, knew the method of obtaining vinegar by distillation, was acquainted with arsenic, sodium chloride (common salt), nitre and alum, and was familiar with much of the chemical apparatus used prior to his time.
From the eighth to the seventeenth century, little progress was made as the work was principally carried on by the alchemists whose methods and efforts seemed devoted almost entirely to quackery. The efforts of these workers to discover methods to convert all of the baser metals into gold and to make the “ elixir of life” occupied much of their time, but these efforts unconsciously resulted in the obtaining of many new substances used in medicine; although many of the writings of these early researchers are preserved, the greater part of them are entirely worthless from a scientific standpoint.
Robert Boyle, who lived from 1627 to 1691, must be credited with the honor of being the “father of modern chemistry" for it Was he who discredited the old “ earth, fire, air and water” theory of substances and gave to elements their proper definitions.
To Lavoisier, 1743 to 1794, must be given the honor of determining that combustion was the result of the union of a combustible substance with the oxygen of the air, and the determination of the composition of sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, and a number of metallic oxides. Berthollet, Davy, Scheele, Wohler, and many others added greatly to this knowledge by the discovery of new metals, gases, and laws; volumes could be written on the history of the gradual introduction of new substances which are now numbered by tens of thousands.
The greatest strides along the line of chemical research have taken place within the past century, the growth of the technical chemical industry within the borders of our own State having been most phenomenal within the past ten years.
The chemical industry in the State of New York had its beginning in 1810 when two small factories began the manufacture of gunpowder; small as these establishments were, they produced about thirteen tons of gunpowder in the first year of operation.
As early as 1788, salt from the Onondaga region was sold by white men of that region who secured the salt by evaporating the brine from the salt springs; the presence of these springs resulted in the establishment of the largest and most prosperous corporation of the chemical industry, located at Solvay, N. Y., which now employs over two thousand persons in the manufacture of ten or more chemical products.
In 1823, the Chemical Bank of New York City began the manufacture of sulphuric acid in a small factory located on Bank street, New York city. This firm had for its foreman named Martin Kalbfleisch who in 1829 began the manufacture of sulphuric acid on the banks of Newtown creek, Brooklyn; in 1847 this business was transferred to White street, Brooklyn, where it is still carried on, its principal output being a large variety of acids and metallic salts. In 1847, Charles Pfizer and Company started in Brooklyn to manufacture santonin, and purify camphor by sublimation, but the business has now expanded to such an extent that the output of the factory includes over two hundred different products.
The manufacture of dry colors, a branch of the industry which was started in 1868, is largely carried on in New York city, the
largest factory engaged in the business now producing thirty-six different colors besides numerous other chemicals. Since this firm began the manufacture of this line, fully a dozen factories have been added to the number engaged in this industry, the last addition to the list, within the past year, being one in which over two million dollars have been invested for the purpose of manufacturing dyes, lakes and dry colors in sufficient quantities to render this country independent of foreign-manufactured goods.
In 1880, a certain firm in Buffalo, N. Y., engaged in the purification of methyl alcohol; the plant, now grown to be the largest in this country, has facilities for purifying fifteen thousand gallons daily.
Since 1823, the production of sulphuric acid has steadily increased; compared with 1880, when but a few tons were made daily in the entire State, the growth of the industry can be seen by the fact that one plant alone, located at Laurel Hill, Queens county, New York city, now manufactures a thousand tons a day.
In 1881, the first building was erected at Solvay, N. Y., for the manufacture of sodium products. The corporation which erected it now possesses, in that village, a plant covering about 106 acres and owns salt beds, practically inexhaustible, located at Tully Farms from which the sodium products are made. Water from Tully lake is pumped into the salt beds and by compressed air the brine is lifted to the surface and by gravity flows in pipes to the brine reservoir to the Solvay plant at Solvay, twenty-two miles distant. Large deposits of limestone at Jamesville, eight miles distant, owned by the company, an abundant supply of pure water, and good facilities for obtaining coal by rail all tend to make this the largest and most prosperous company engaged in the chemical industry in the State of New York.
Development of electrical power from the water fall was beguin in Niagara Falls, N. Y. in 1886, and in 1895 power was first delivered by the Niagara Falls Power Company to the Pittsburg Reduction Company of Niagara Falls which is now known as the Aluminum Company of America; this company operates in Niagara Falls three factories, employs more than one thousand men, uses more than seventy-five thousand electrical horsepower daily, and is one of the largest consumers of electricity in the
United States. For a distance of more than three miles in this city factories using electric power for electro-metallurgical processes are situated along the bank of the Niagara river, these factories manufacturing eighty-nine per cent of all the electrochemical products made in the United States. Fourteen million pounds of aluminum, in the form of pigs and rolled metal, are annually turned out from three of these factories, while the factories manufacturing chlorinated lime, also located here, produce more than half of the total output of the world.
Cheap electrical power, produced at Niagara Falls, has made possible the production of artificial graphite in large quantities, the artificial product being far superior to the natural, which is always found with impurities as sand, mica, and other associated substances. The cheap production of this substance led to the manufacture, in large quantities, of electrodes which are largely used in connection with electric furnaces, thus adding a number of manufacturing interests to the long list centered in this city.
The production of ferro alloys, as ferro-chromium, ferro titanium, and ferro-manganese, and other substances, as sodium hydroxide, sodium peroxide, liquid chlorine, carborundum, alundum, and many others, add to the long list of manufactured products which make Niagara Falls the chief city of the electro-chemical industry of the United States.
The products of the chemical industry of the State of New York, as can be judged by the few factories previously mentioned, are decidedly numerous and varied in character, and, while many come into the hands of the manufacturer and consumer as finished products, a great number are used only for making other substances. Thus, acids which are made in one factory may be used in another to chlorinate, nitrate, or acetate organic or inorganic materials; salts made in one factory may be used to manufacture pigments in another; ferro alloys made in one factory are necessary in another to add to certain metals to give the necessary percentages of substances required in new products; and many of the articles ultimately enter into the manufacture of substances which are used in various pharmaceutical preparations. The products or waste of one industry are often the raw materials of another; hence, it can easily be seen that the chemical industry is one of a