Mixed emotions about a life spent at the smelter

THE Pasminco smelter closed more than a decade ago but Barry Bradley’s mind hasn’t quite moved on.

‘‘I still wake up at night and think I’ve got to start my shift in an hour,’’ he said.

It was with mixed emotions that the 38-year smelter veteran walked out the gate with 319 other workers for the last time in 2003.

The industry’s economic benefits could not be disputed; it had provided secure employment to thousands of men for more than a century.

In Mr Bradley’s case it had allowed him to buy a comfortable brick house in Fifth Street, Boolaroo, in which to raise his family.

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His income later allowed him to support them through university.

His career at the smelter started in 1965 – when he was 20 years old.

‘‘I moved up from Sydney and got a job as a plant operator. My job was to prepare charges to go into the furnace,’’ Mr Bradley said.

‘‘It was pretty horrendous in those early days, everything was hands on.’’

Although the pollution and safety standards gradually became tighter, the health and environmental effects remained a lingering concern.

‘‘In the early days there was a lot of lead dust and slag around. The slag was put into a lot of the footpaths and used as fill,’’ he said.

‘‘They spent millions and millions trying to upgrade the place over the years but it just ended up getting run back into the ground because they weren’t prepared to put the money in there.’’

 Former Pasminco worker Barry Bradley. At his home in Boolaroo. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Former Pasminco worker Barry Bradley. At his home in Boolaroo. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Remarkably, the 70-year-old doesn’t have any obvious ill-health effects from his four decades at the smelter. But he knows many others weren’t as lucky.

‘‘When I started working there it was a job and you didn’t think about it. In the ’90s they brought the [blood] lead level down to 30 parts per million. When I first started there anything up to 70 was acceptable,’’ said.

‘‘I would like to see an independent review done to test people who worked there for a long time, just to see what the [healthy/unhealthy] ratio is.’’

Like many others, Mr Bradley has questions about the remediation work done following the smelter’s closure.

‘‘When they came up and tested all the houses they said everything was all right. But I have very grave doubts about it.’’

Overall he likes what he sees when he walks around the town today – the new businesses and younger families that have moved in over the past decade make him particularly happy.

‘‘I’d like to think there will come a day when the smelter is completely forgotten,’’ he said.