nitro cellulosic

Nitro, West Virginia

Nitro is a city in West Virginia, along the Kanawha River. Most of the city lies in Kanawha County, with the remainder in Putnam County. The population was 6,824 at the 2000 census.

Nitro was incorporated in 1932 by Circuit Court.

City name origin

The name Nitro comes from nitrocellulose. The Nitro area was to be the US's ammunition production facility during World War II. Its name was selected by the United States government because of the establishment there during World War II of a large federal plant for the manufacture of explosives. The chemical plants in the area were able to fulfill this function during World War I, but to a lesser scale.

Famous residents

Famous people with ties to the town:


Nitro is located at (38.415281, -81.831249).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.1 square miles (10.6 km²), of which, 3.8 square miles (9.7 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.9 km²) of it (8.09%) is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 6,824 people, 3,015 households, and 1,935 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,821.2 people per square mile (702.6/km²). There were 3,217 housing units at an average density of 858.6/sq mi (331.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 96.64% White, 1.63% African American, 0.25% Native American, 0.25% Asian, 0.40% from other races, and 0.84% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.54% of the population.

There were 3,015 households out of which 23.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.3% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.8% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.80.

The age distribution was 20.1% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 26.4% from 25 to 44, 26.1% from 45 to 64, and 18.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 89.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,389, and the median income for a family was $41,367. Males had a median income of $30,086 versus $21,932 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,453. About 7.3% of families and 10.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.5% of those under age 18 and 14.0% of those age 65 or over.


The city's public school students do not all attend the same schools, because West Virginia school districts are divided strictly along county lines, without regard to city boundaries.

Kanawha County residents are served by the following schools in the city:

  • Nitro Elementary School (public)
  • Nitro High School (public)

There is no public middle school in Nitro on either side of the county line, nor is there any public school within the Putnam County portion of the city. Middle school students in Kanawha County must bus to Andrew Jackson Middle School in Cross Lanes. Putnam County students must bus to Rock Branch Elementary, Poca Middle, and Poca High.


The reach of the Kanawha River Valley between Belle and Nitro is known locally as the “Chemical Valley,” which, at its peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the leading producer of chemicals in the world (Henry, 1974). During World War I the government built an $80 million complex in Nitro to manufacture explosives and chemicals for the war effort.

The site was located on an cow pasture on the Kanawha River on the flat river valley floodplain. The facility had just been placed in operation when the war ended in November 1918. The first shipment of powder was also the last. Local authorities then sought various chemical companies to occupy the facility which had excellent infrastructure in utilities, transportation and new housing for workers. It was hoped that the former gunpowder complex would become a major chemical manufacturing center, especially for the emerging dye industry in the U.S. that relied on coal and coke by-products as feedstock.

The Kanawha River and water in the adjacent alluvium have been adversely affected by industrial activities (Messinger, 1997).

The chemical manufacturing history of Nitro resulted in environmental impairment, including the Fike/Artel Chemical Site (EPA ID: WVD047989207), which is on the National Priorities List Superfund. The 12-acre site was placed on the EPA National Priorities List in 1983. The site is a former World War I chemical munitions plant at which subsequent chemical manufacturing, reclamation and disposal was allegedly conducted.

The Solutia Inc. Nitro Plant, located on the east bank of the Kanawha River approximately one-half mile north of the City of Nitro in Putnam County, is being investigated through the RCRA program. From 1918 to 1921, the facility manufactured explosives including “nitro-powder” to support World War I. When explosives manufacturing processes ceased, the facility was purchased and used for a variety of industries. RCRA Corrective Action activities at this facility are being conducted under the direction of EPA Region 3 and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Other RCRA Corrective Action facilities include Great Lakes Chemicals Company (formerly FMC Corporation) and Union Carbide Corp. - PTO (a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company).

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