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Why did West, Texas, build homes and a school next to a 'time bomb'?

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A 2008 report by the Center for American Progress called a Pasadena, Texas, fertilizer plant one of the most dangerous chemical plants in the country, since an accident there could make more than 3 million people vulnerable to a major gas release.

Against that backdrop, the question of why so close, at least in part, cuts to the heart of the civic pact of many American towns, both large and small, where industry and people forge a sort of mutualism that recognizes the symbiotic benefits of labor and profit, and fuels civic pride. After all, small towns from upstate New York to the Texas Panhandle have a similar motif, where a few industries, often near or in town, infuse economic vitality and give young people a reason to stay.

"There's a close bond between employer and community and a level of acceptance that emerges over time, almost an assumption that, well, nothing has happened in the past, therefore everything should be okay," says Bob Bland, chairman of the Public Administration Department at the University of North Texas, in Denton. "[But] there's also something more subtle … a social bond that occurs where the company, factory or plant to some extent defines the social fabric of the community. There's a mutualism that goes beyond just the jobs the company creates."

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