What was the “Henderson cloud”?

Henderson was long considered the industrial backwater to the glitz of Las Vegas. Although today it almost disappears behind strip malls and stalled redevelopment efforts, the Basic Magnesium (BMI) and Titanium Metals (Timet) industrial complex once dominated the skyline along Lake Mead Drive (now Parkway). It was here, on the Basic Townsite, at one of only two titanium plants in the nation, that Southern Nevada contributed to both the World War II effort and the poor air quality of the growing town of Henderson.

Through the 1980s, Timet used evaporative ponds that slipped a mickey of more than 350 pounds of chlorine and other chemicals into our air each day. Subsequent airborne chemical reactions formed a stinging, stifling soup that sat on Henderson’s lap like a stripper needing rent money. I recall holding my breath as my dad and I sped by in his Corvair convertible on the way to Lake Mead. I also remember standing in the upper end zone of the Silver Bowl—as Sam Boyd Stadium was then called—with my shirt wrapped tightly around my face to ward off the stench. I was lucky; my exposure was elective. Some former Henderson schoolchildren recall forced-indoor P.E. on days when The Cloud was particularly noxious.

The window-shattering May 4, 1988, explosion at Henderson’s Pepcon rocket-fuel plant didn’t do much to enhance the city’s reputation. But over the next several years, the community, with the help of federal and local government, eliminated The Cloud. Crucial in the change was the march of Green Valley, the master-planned community that aimed to radically rebrand Henderson’s gritty reputation by replacing lava-strewn desert and miles of junkyards with a clean, green gaming-free community (that latter part changed in the 1990s). After all, if you are selling fancy homes in what was once an industrial zone, the last thing you want is for someone to ask why their eyes are burning. Green Valley succeeded, and industrial Henderson survived too—just without the stink. And to think some Green Valley residents were complaining about train noise a few years back!

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