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, with an integrated multi-metal facility which has the capability to process a wide range of lead rich concentrates and smelting industry by-products, incorporating a lead refinery, a precious metals refinery and a copper plant.
Nyrstar holds a licence under the Environment Protection Act 1993 (the Act) for several activities of environmental significance.
End-of-year data provided by Nyrstar confirms the company breached conditions of its operating licence on 31 December 2020, and this has triggered a formal EPA investigation.
Further information is available in this media release.
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.
From 1 July 2020, Nyrstar is required to meet compliance limits of 0.4 µg/m3, averaged over 12 months and assessed 4 times per year, at 2 locations, Pirie West and Oliver Street Monitoring Stations in Port Pirie. Nyrstar is also required to take all reasonable and practicable measures to not exceed a 12-month average target of 1.6 μg/m3 at Ellen St Monitoring Station and 0.6 μg/m3 at Boat Ramp Monitoring Station. This will be assessed twice per year. This is based on daily measurements of TSP Lead undertaken by Nyrstar.
From 31 December 2020, the EPA requires Nyrstar to take all reasonable and practicable measures to not exceed the following rolling 3-month average TSP LIA targets, based on daily measurements of TSP Lead:
- 0.45 μg/m3 at the Oliver St and Pirie West Primary School Monitoring Stations
- 2.2 μg/m3 at the Licensee’s Ellen Street Monitoring Station, and
- 1.0 μg/m3 at the Boat Ramp Monitoring Station.
Nyrstar conducts additional monitoring at locations across the site and in the town of Port Pirie that are used to understand and control its emissions. It is required to maintain the accreditation by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA) for measuring lead in air concentrations.
The EPA undertakes verification monitoring at 4 locations in Port Pirie: Ellen Street, Pirie West Primary School, Oliver St and Frank Green Park. This monitoring is undertaken 1-day-in-6, providing a snapshot of lead in air levels. 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 in Port Pirie, on a long-term basis.
EPA data are not used to assess Nyrstar’s compliance against the licence limit(s).
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.
Lead in air limits
Nyrstar's 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 0.4 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.
TheEnvironment 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. For Nyrstar’s licence, the EPA has also considered international best practices and latest health advice in deriving new lead in air limits and targets.
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
For further information on EPA-related enquiries, please contact the EPA on (08) 8204 2176 or email.
For further information on health-related queries, please contact SA Health on (08) 8226 7100.
For further information, please visit Nyrstar’s designated webpage.
- Targeted Lead Abatement Program (TLAP) and email
- 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