The Western Australian Government acknowledges that dust levels in the Pilbara region can be higher than other areas in the State and will be taking a whole-of-Government approach in Newman in particular to ensure that the impacts of dust are well understood and regulated to the appropriate levels.
BHP Billiton Iron Ore Pty Ltd (BHP) operates two mines close to the Newman town site that contribute to airborne dust in the area:
- Mount Whaleback Orebody 29/30/35 iron ore mine, the eastern boundary of which is located less than 1km west of Newman’s nearest residential area.
- Eastern Ridge iron ore mine, located approximately 5km northeast of Newman.
The mining operations are subject to a State Agreement Act and multiple approvals under both Part IV and V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986.
Dust Sources at Mine Sites
In addition to the naturally high dust levels found in many Pilbara locations, activities with the potential to contribute to dust emissions at the mine sites include ore processing, blasting, truck movements on mine roads, and clearing and rehabilitation works. Of these activities, the Part V licences regulate ore processing activities, which includes crushing and screening of ore.
Air Quality Monitoring
The Part V licences require air quality monitoring to be undertaken at Newman Town Centre and McLennan Drive (Newman East), with the results of this monitoring publicly available in real time via this link.
BHP also reports annually on its air quality monitoring results through its Annual Environmental Report which is available from the State Library.
DWER dust composition study
Between July 2018 and July 2019, DWER, in collaboration with the Shire of East Pilbara, undertook a 12-month dust monitoring campaign to assess the levels and composition of dust and to determine whether asbestos fibres were present in ambient air in Newman.
A report on the analysis of the data collected for the dust monitoring campaign has been prepared, with the Department of Health confirming that the measured concentrations of metals and asbestos do not represent a public health risk to the Newman community.
The report on the study is available via this link.
The Department of Health has reviewed the results of the monitoring campaign and advised that the measured concentrations of metals and asbestos do not represent a public health risk to the Newman community.
The results indicate:
- asbestos levels were below the limit of detection for all samples
- of the metals analysed, iron was detected at the highest concentrations, reflecting the mineralogy of the area. The iron levels detected are below the adopted guideline for iron oxide (as hematite)
- manganese was elevated in a small number of samples however the long-term health guideline value was not exceeded. These results are consistent with the mineralogy of the area
- all other metals were detected at levels below the adopted guidelines
- daily average Total Suspended Particulates (TSP) levels exceeded a benchmark guideline adopted for the study in the majority of samples. The elevated concentrations of TSP measured during the campaign are consistent with other dust monitoring data collected by industry in the region.
DWER will undertake a review of BHP’s Mount Whaleback and Eastern Ridge Part V licences in the first half of 2021. The review will focus on dust emissions and impacts, to ensure that the regulatory approach is fit-for-purpose. The review will consider dust sources, emissions, pathways and management measures, in addition to historic monitoring results and the findings of the recent dust study.
As the Part V licences regulate only the ore processing and related activities, DWER will consult with the Environmental Protection Authority, the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, each of which have a role in governing mining at Newman.
DWER will also consult with the Department of Health regarding appropriate air quality targets, limits and monitoring requirements.