Newman Air Quality

The Western Australian Government acknowledges that dust levels in the Pilbara region can be higher than other areas in the State and is taking a whole-of-Government approach in Newman to ensure that the impacts of dust are well understood and regulated to the appropriate levels.
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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 Parts 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). The results of this monitoring is publicly available in real time. 

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.

View the Newman dust composition monitoring campaign report.

Study results

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.

Licence review

DWER has finalised its review of the operating licences for BHP’s Mount Whaleback and Eastern Ridge iron ore mines to ensure strict controls are in place to manage dust emissions and impacts.

The focus of the review has been on dust emissions and impacts from the prescribed premises activities authorised under the existing licences, to ensure that the regulatory approach is fit-for-purpose. The review has considered key dust sources, emissions, pathways and management measures, in addition to historic monitoring results, findings of the dust composition study and advice from the Department of Health.

Conditions have been placed on BHP’s operating licences for the management and monitoring of dust from ore processing and related activities at each premises. In addition to implementing planned dust control improvements, BHP is also required to investigate further opportunities for improving ore handling operations and its response procedures for high dust events.

Future improvements will be based on monitoring data and further detailed examination of onsite dust sources to identify opportunities for changes to dust controls.

Beyond the activities regulated by the licences, the Environmental Protection Authority, the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, also have responsibilities for governing mining activities at Newman.

More information

The department will update this page as new information comes to hand.