Port Pirie (Nyrstar)
The Port Pirie smelter has been in constant operation for more than 127 years. It is one of the world's primary lead smelters, and has the capability to process a wide range of lead rich concentrates and smelting industry byproducts.
Nyrstar holds a licence under the Environment Protection Act 1993 (the Act) for several activities of environmental significance. Airborne lead from the Nyrstar smelter site has historically been the prime contributor to blood lead levels observed in the children of Port Pirie.
The $514-million transformation of the Port Pirie smelter was announced on 16 May 2014, and hot commissioning of the new smelter commenced in September 2017. The project will transform the site into a multi-metals processing and recovery facility and deliver a step change reduction in emissions.
The EPA will continue to ensure Nyrstar focuses on controlling its activities and doing everything reasonable and practicable to minimise its emissions during the commissioning period.
Monitoring lead in air
The EPA regularly reviews airborne monitoring results conducted by Nyrstar. This monitoring is important in controlling operations on site and is used to assess Nyrstar's compliance against its licence conditions. The EPA additionally conducts verification air quality monitoring in Port Pirie.
Nyrstar is required to meet compliance limits of 0.5 µg/m3, averaged over 12 months and assessed 4 times per year, at 2 locations, Pirie West and Oliver Street in Port Pirie. This daily monitoring undertaken by Nyrstar. It has additional monitoring stations at locations across the site and in the town of Port Pirie that are used to understand and control its emissions. Nyrstar is required to maintain the accreditation by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA) for measuring lead in air concentrations.
The EPA undertakes additional verification monitoring at 4 locations in Port Pirie: Ellen Street, Pirie West Primary School, Oliver St and Frank Green Park. This monitoring is done 1 day in 6, providing a snapshot of conditions. The EPA’s verification monitoring is not used to assess Nyrstar’s compliance against the lead in air limits, however it informs the EPA on the overall air quality on a long-term basis.
EPA data are not used to assess Nyrstar’s compliance against the licence limit(s).
Monitoring lead in air
How is lead in air measured
The lead in air concentrations are measured using high volume air samplers according to the Australian Standard method for total suspended particles which are particles of size less than 50 µm (millionths of a metre) and it includes a mixture of large and fine particles.
This instrument is used to collect total suspended particle samples by drawing a large known volume of air through a pre-weighed filter for 24 hours. After sampling, the filter is re-weighed and the difference in filter weight is the collected particulate matter mass. Dividing the mass by the volume of air sampled gives the concentration of TSP. The particulate matter retained on the filter is analysed to determine the concentration of lead by an analytical laboratory.
What are the lead in air limits and standards
Nyrstar's environmental licence specifies the lead in air emission limits for the site. These are assessed 4 times each year at 2 sites, Pirie West and Oliver Street, and must be below 0.5 µg/m3, averaged over the preceding 12 months. These limits are set for the purpose of protecting the Port Pirie community from the effects of lead in the air.
When Nyrstar has completed its commissioning of the new smelter, the EPA will review the licence and specify more stringent emission limits in line with the superior performance of the new plant and equipment. Advice from SA Health is that lead emissions should be as low as reasonably achievable.
In Australia, the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure (AAQ NEPM) defines the numerical standards for most common pollutants along with lead. The EPA makes use of the standards in the AAQ NEPM as reference numbers when developing appropriate criteria for planning responses to minimise offsite impacts on communities, and to protect human health. The standards are also used to ensure facilities that emit these pollutants do not adversely impact sensitive receivers, eg childcare centres, schools and hospitals.
The Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016 provides a legislative basis for regulating and managing air quality in SA, including criteria for developing effective conditions to assist businesses and industries to improve their performance in minimising risk from air emissions through a system of licensing.
How to interpret lead in air monitoring data from Port Pirie
|1-day-in-6 sampling (EPA)||Daily sampling (Nyrstar)|
|What is it?||Lead content analysed in the 24 hour averaged TSP (total suspended particles) sample collected every 6th day||Lead content analysed in the 24 hour averaged TSP sample collected every day|
|How to calculate annual average?||Lead concentration from limited samples (approximately total 60 in 1 year) are averaged to calculate annual average||Lead concentration from daily samples (365 samples in 1 year) are averaged to calculate annual average|
|How these data are presented?||Rolling annual average of lead in air in µg/m3 on a time series graph||Rolling annual average of lead in air in µg/m3 on a time series graph|
|What does it say about lead in air levels?||Informs long-term trends and assist in understanding impact on public health||Provides the basis for compliance against licence limit|
|Does this type of data trigger any regulatory response?||No. However it raises concerns if the levels are in excess of normal expected fluctuations and background levels.||Yes, if the annual average levels are above lead in air limits. Triggers regulatory response if the levels are above the limit.|
Nyrstar monitoring portal
The Port Pirie smelter has operated for about 130 years, and a cadmium extraction plant was built at the site in the 1930s to capture the cadmium produced during the ore smelting process.
Groundwater contamination arising from the smelter site includes cadmium and other metals.
This is currently being investigated via ongoing monitoring as part of the voluntary site contamination assessment proposal (VSCAP) that Nyrstar entered into with the EPA for the site.
On 6 November 2019, Nyrstar notified the EPA of an increase in cadmium concentration in a well at the smelter site as part of the VSCAP monitoring.
The EPA has assessed the notification and placed the information on the online Site Contamination Index.
Nyrstar is now investigating the cause of the increase in the cadmium concentration and the EPA has requested a copy of the groundwater monitoring report.
What is a section 83A notification?
Under section 83A of the Environment Protection Act 1993, the owner or occupier, site contamination consultant or auditor of a site must notify the EPA of site contamination of groundwater.
When the EPA receives a section 83A notification, it is assessed and verified, then entered on the Site Contamination Index.
It is published on the EPA website, and an ad is placed in the local newspaper. Members of the public can request a copy of the notification.
For further information on EPA-related enquiries, please contact the EPA on 1800 729 175 or email.
For further information on health-related queries, please contact SA Health on (08) 8226 7100.
For further information from Nyrstar, please visit Nyrstar’s designated webpage.
- Targeted Lead Abatement Program and email
- Air quality learning & resources
- Air quality monitoring quarterly reports (Port Pirie emissions included as part of quarterly report)
- Ambient air quality in Port Pirie, South Australia: Monitoring campaign 2002–05
- Port Pirie Smelting Facility (Lead-In-Air Concentrations) Act 2013