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Industrial Chemicals Workers


Although its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece, chemistry was recognized as a physical science during the 17th century. The alkali industry, which began then, made alkalis (caustic compounds such as sodium or potassium hydroxide) and alkaline salts such as soda ash (sodium carbonate) from wood and plant ashes. These compounds were then used to make soap and glass. By 1775, the natural sources of these alkaline compounds could not meet demand. Encouraged by the French Academy of Sciences, Nicolas Leblanc devised a synthetic process to manufacture them cheaply. Large-scale use of his process came a few years later in England. Inspired and encouraged by Leblanc's success, other scientists developed new methods for making a variety of chemicals that were important to industrial production. This marked the beginning of the modern industrial chemicals industry. In the 1880s, the Leblanc process was superseded by the Solvay (ammonia-soda) process. In the industrial chemical field today, many compounds, such as ethylene, which is derived from petroleum, are used to synthesize countless other useful products. Ethylene can be used to make polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene, vinyl plastics, ethyl alcohol, and ethyl ether, to name just a few. Many of these, in turn, are used in fibers, fabrics, paints, resins, fuels, and pharmaceuticals. New uses for chemicals continue to be found and compounds continue to be synthesized to create polymers, paper, dyes, drugs, plastics, fertilizers, foods, and textiles.

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