Environmental Protection Authority slashes Nyrstar’s Port Pirie lead smelter pollution levels by 20 per cent

Port Pirie’s lead smelter, operated by Nyrstar, will be forced to lower its annual emissions by 20 per cent under a new licence agreement from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The new licencing conditions, which will last 12 months, will cap Nyrstar’s maximum lead-in-air concentrations at 0.4 micrograms per decilitre per metre squared.

The EPA will also assess emission concentration targets quarterly, as well as yearly, at four locations around Port Pirie in regional South Australia.

If either quarterly or 12-month lead-in-air targets are breached the company will now have to notify the public and explain why it happened.

“The new conditions of the Nyrstar licence will require continual, ongoing attention and investment in the smelter operations to reduce emissions,” said EPA chief executive Tony Circelli.

“We will require an updated Environment Improvement Plan from the operators to address lead and wastewater emissions.

“Nyrstar is required to consult publicly in the course of developing this plan.”

Changes will include dust plan

The new licence comes after an ABC Background Briefing investigation into Nyrstar.

Classified documents leaked to the program showed how authorities at the smelter knew the State Government’s latest education and clean-up initiative, TLAP, was unlikely to be effective in reducing harmful exposure.

It also found the licensing regime of the Port Pirie smelter did not stop harmful levels of lead being emitted.

The new licence agreement will include quarterly monitoring at three locations around Port Pirie.(ABC: Gary-Jon Lysaght)

Until now, Nyrstar only had to comply with an annual average of lead-in-air results and was not accountable for day-to-day spikes.

The new guidelines will include the need for Nyrstar to have an effective dust management plan, to be submitted by September 30.

“This also provides the EPA an opportunity to review and consider further lead-in-air reductions in the near future.”

At any time Nyrstar can also trigger a six-month negotiation with the authority to set a 10-year annual lead-in-air maximum, to be included in all licenses in the decade thereafter.

The EPA is also prosecuting the company over separate allegations that 700 litres of acid leaked from its smelter into a Port Pirie creek.

It will allege Nyrstar polluted the environment by “discharging, or failing to prevent the discharge of, about 700L of sulphuric acid” from its smelter into First Creek between January 31 and February 3, 2019.

Company ‘committed’ to improvements

Nyrstar says it is “committed” to improving its lead-in-air performance.

“This is currently a high focus for the operation which Nyrstar believes it will achieve in the coming months.”

The company said it has made improvements to reduce lead-in-air levels, which include buying new vacuum road sweepers and new fog cannons to minimise fine dust particle movement.

“Increased community awareness, communication and consultation will also be high focus areas for the operation,” it said.

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