From the second half of the 19th century, the development of the Rhine into a waterway and the construction of harbours, railroads and roads turned the Rhine valley into the traffic axis it is today. Two main industries rose from the formerly great commercial diversity, with textile industry in a leading position: Heavy industry and chemical industry. The latter often developed from dye-works supplying the textile industry.  Additionally, other factory works processed mixtures of substances to quality products by means of purification and separation (refineries). For the chemical industry, the Rhine developed to be an important site factor, as it served transportation of raw materials and goods, it was a source of cooling and process water and was used for disposing of wastewater. Therefore, worldwide, among the great international river basins the Rhine basin is the one with the highest density of industrial plants.

In the Rhine basin, Europe’s most important industrial and chemical companies annually make some 550 billion Euros. Apart from industry, the tertiary sector was significantly developed in the past decades.
For a long time, the considerable pollution of waters due to discharges of pollutants and nutrients from industrial wastewater posed a problem. Since the end of the 1970s, this pollution has been successfully reduced, and in spite of the high industrial density Rhine water quality as well as that of many tributaries has distinctly improved. Industrial discharges have been reduced to a greater extent than inputs from agriculture. This is above all a result of the exemplary co-operation of all states when implementing the ICPR Rhine Action Programme.

In 1988, and with a view to enhancing the Prevention of accidents and security of industrial plants the ministers in charge of questions relating to the Rhine among others decided on measures concerning the stocking of hazardous substances and the construction of retention basins for fire fighting water.

Accidents in industrial plants have a far-reaching transboundary impact on the Rhine – they may in particular restrict the uses of Rhine water for drinking water or industrial water supply and harm the aquatic ecosystem of the river. Since the implementation of the recommendations on the prevention of accidents and security of industrial plants there have not been any accidents with transboundary effects. An analysis of the reports passed on within the Warning and Alarm Plan reveals that the number of reports with industrial origin concerning the Rhine has been considerably reduced.

Did you know ...

that there are six economic centres of industry along the Rhine?

The great number of economic centres of industry illustrates the good logistic possibilities of the shipping lane Rhine as well as of the railway and motorways parallel to the Rhine. In particular companies in heavy industry and chemical industry use these advantages of site.