1895: London registered company known as The Sulphide Corporation (Ashcroft’s Process) Ltd selects Cockle Creek for a zinc smelter.
1896: First stage of the works is built between March and the following February.
1897: The operation of the Ashcroft Process begins in March but the new process cannot be made a commercial success and it is decided in July to change the works to an orthodox lead smelter.
1898: The re-registered Sulphide Corporation Ltd begins to succeed.
1902: In February the first of five planned zinc distillation plants is commissioned, producing what is believed to be the first zinc produced in commercial properties in the southern hemisphere.
1906: The second plant opens, providing much-needed jobs in the area. The wages on the roasting furnaces is six pounds for a mate and six pounds six for a captain, per shift. Men work only four hour shifts and often pass out because of the heat.
1908: The zinc plant closes and the company once again begins to change focus.
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1911: The Sulphide Employees’ Union is formed.
1912: New, state-of-the-art plant and machinery are installed.
1913: A sulphuric acid and superphosphate plant is commissioned, followed by a Mond Gas Producer Plant which makes coal gas for fuel, fuel oil, tar and sulphate of ammonia. This operates until 1921.
1914-18: During World War I the plant is one of the largest employers of industrial labour in NSW. The year 1915-16 produces the greatest quantity of lead bullion production for any 12-month period.
1917: A full-scale lead refinery is constructed, coming on line in November, and one of the first works canteens in a NSW industrial plant is introduced, managed and operated by the employees.
1922: Smelting section of works closed while acid and fertiliser sections expanded.
1923: A third Chamber Acid Unit is bought on line and higher strength acid production begins, and six barrier roasters are erected for the roasting of zinc concentrates.
1925: Cement production begins to service people in the Newcastle district.
1929: An agreement is entered with Australian Fertilisers to pool together all fertiliser sales and this operates until the 1960s, but while output grows, demand drops.
1930-1940: Sulphide Employees’ Welfare Club is established, with a clubhouse and bowling green set up on the works site.
1931: Company directors and salaried staff agree to 20 per cent wages cut to minimise costs in the wake of the Great Depression.
1942: The works is declared a protected industry, clearing it of wartime restrictions, but there are still shortages of labour and materials.
1947: Permission is sought to begin coalmining on the Cockle Creek property as unrest in the coal and power industries is disrupting production.
1949: Plant upgrading to double sulphuric acid production and to enable new process for zinc production. Employees encouraged to build houses at Boolaroo.
1950: The Sulphide Corporation Ltd goes into voluntary liquidation, replaced by the Sulphide Corporation Pty Ltd, and in the years that followed the first signs of environmental consciousness arise and there are major tree plantings on the hills behind the site.
1955: Acid plant and new superphosphate unit commissioned.
1957: Plans are announced for an eight-million pound re-establishment of zinc smelting and further expansion.
1961: The state-of-the-art zinc-lead smelter is commissioned in August bringing with it jobs, export revenue and increasing the nation’s zinc-lead smelting capacity by about 40 per cent.
1962: The NSW Clean Air Act comes into being in May. It is followed by an ownership change with Conzinc Rio Tinto taking 75 per cent control.
1964: Corporation founds a subsidiary, Greenleaf Fertilisers Ltd, to manage fertiliser production at the plant.
1966: The acid plant of the new works is commissioned .
1967: The double superphosphate plant of the new works is commissioned.
1968: A refinery is added at the zinc smelter, adding four new products to plant output.
1969: The NPK plant of the new works is commissioned and Sulphide ends its involvement in the fertiliser industry by selling its holding in Greenleaf to Australian Fertilisers Ltd.
1970: End of involvement in fertiliser industry.
1972: $3.5million plant upgrading to increase capacity plus $3million for environmental measures. Blood testing of employees begins.
1973: A noise reduction program begins with monitoring of emissions and effluents from the plant.
1974: On July 12, the production of one million tonnes of zinc and lead at the plant is celebrated. The company workforce tops 800 and the corporation recruits 55 apprentices.
1975: In April a new sludge treatment plant is commissioned after research on the removal of heavy metals from liquid effluent.
1976: Cost-cutting begins and the remaining fertiliser operations are trimmed because of poor sales. Blood lead survey finds 86 per cent of children have a level of 10 or more.
1977: Late in the year world demand for zinc plummets and prices collapse.
1978: It is decided to inject $3.25million into a new lead dross leaching plant to open up new markets.
1979: The new plant opens late in the year, at that time the only plant of its type in the world.
1980: The decade begins with market upheaval and difficult domestic and international conditions.
1982-1983: Staff cut from 800 to 650 as the resources boom deflates.
1983: Boolaroo records the highest levels of lead pollution in NSW.
1988: Doctor Andrew Zdenkowski speaks of the high incience of respiratory illness in the Boolaroo, Argenton and Teralba areas. He said between 1980 and 1988 one in every five patients treated in his Boolaroo surgery had some sort of breathing difficulty.
Pasminco - Sulphide Pty Ltd is formed with the merger of lead and zinc assets of North Broken Hill Holdings ltd and CRA Ltd. The move means a $50million capital investment program for the works, including $12million on environmental controls.
1991: Hunter Area Health survey reveals soil and dust contamination and high children’s blood lead levels. CSIRO scientist Graeme Batley said Cockle Creek was one of Australia’s worst contaminated estuaries and would require dredging to remove high concentrations of lead, zinc and cadmium.
1992: First, Second and half of Third Streets designated as a buffer to the plant. Pasminco offers to buy 52 houses and lets them to people without young children.
1993: Plan to increase capacity of zinc smelter to 110,000 tonnes a year and improve environmental controls.
1995: Then Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning Craig Knowles grants consent in November to $40million upgrading, taking production from 95,000 tonnes of zinc a year to 100,000 tonnes, subject to 63 conditions. Hunter Area Health establishes Environmental Health Centre (EHC) in Boolaroo.
1997: The smelter marks its 100th birthday with a number of celebrations throughout the year, but Lake Macquarie MP Jeff Hunter says the smelter should be shut unless it can meet World Health Organisation standards. The company is told to stop discharging effluent into Cockle Creek by 2000. The houses and yards of children with blood lead levels above 15 are targeted for extensive individual environmental lead abatement.
1998: A zonal abatement program begins that includes carpet and ceiling vacuuming, removal of visible slag and top dressing of soil of residences closest to the smelter. The program is terminated in 2001. Pasminco commits $8million to pollution-curbing devices.
1999: The smelter is still breaching health limits and the State Government denies lowering the bar on its emission levels to allow it to keep running. In August lake councillors worry about rezoning land in Warners Bay because of the emissions and the matter ends up in the Supreme Court.
2000: In February the smelter is roped into a class action against Pasminco at the lake and in South Australia, and in April the smelter increases anti-pollution spending to $13million and the EPA says selenium emissions into the lake are one-tenth what they used to be. By June the new anti-pollution gear is in place but the smelter still fails emission targets. By November the company’s shares have fallen to record lows at 71 cents. Fence topped environmental mound to shield community from plant.
2001: By May Pasminco is a troubled company, with for-sale signs on its assets, including the smelter. In June its shares are suspended by the Australian Stock Exchange. In September it goes into administration with debts of $2.8billion.
2002: In September the Environmental Protection Authority officially labels the Pasminco plant a threat to community health and the environment, citing airborne lead particles and the possible impact of smelter run-off on the marine ecosystem as the two main contributors to the problem. On October 24, Pasminco tables its intent to close the plant. At that time it is planned to close the Hunter’s oldest heavy industry between 2006 and 2008. The plant has struggled for years to compete and its obligation to remediate the Lake Macquarie environment presents a financial burden, with more than $15million spent on environmental projects since 2000.
2003: In March it is announced that the smelter will close more than two years earlier than expected. The final whistle is sounded on September 12.
2006: The smoke stacks tumble at the former smelter site. Demolition of most buildings.
2011: Lead Abatement Strategy begins in October and concludes in February 2013. Of the 2700 houses within the geographically defined LAS grid, 500 were found to be ineligible, 750 registered above the National Environment Protection Council’s health based investigation level and 950 opted out of the scheme.
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