Pinjarra Air Quality

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is investigating complaints of dust in the Pinjarra area, to ensure that the health and amenity of the community is protected.

Alcoa of Australia Limited – Pinjarra refinery (Alcoa Pinjarra)

Alcoa’s Pinjarra alumina refinery is regulated by the Department of Environment and Regulation (DWER) under Parts IV and V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act), through Ministerial Statement 646 and L5271/1983/14.

Updates relating to the refinery’s current operations, its regulatory instruments, emissions and DWER’s work to investigate recent complaints are detailed below.

Ministerial statement

In line with the requirements of Ministerial Statement 646, Alcoa prepared and is implementing an Air Quality Management Plan that details the approach to the monitoring and management of emissions to air from the Pinjarra refinery.

The Air Quality Management Plan includes:

  • monitoring methods, quality assurance/quality control procedures and sampling frequency for monitoring particulate emissions (including ultrafine particles) and metal emissions from the residue storage area (RSA) and stockpile area
  • an assessment of cumulative particulate emissions taking into account background levels and levels from refinery sources
  • sampling locations, methods (including continuous monitoring or campaign monitoring using continuous techniques) and quality assurance/quality control procedures.

The plan is publicly available on the Alcoa website.

Ministerial statement 646 is available on the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) website.

Part V Licence

Licence L5271/1983/14 issued under Part V of the EP Act regulates emissions and discharges from bauxite (alumina) refining and associated activities, and complements the requirements of Ministerial Statement 646.  

A copy of the current version of licence L5271/1983/14 and records of decision making on recent amendments to the licence are published on DWER’s website.

The licence requires Alcoa to implement dust control measures and routinely undertake maintenance and housekeeping to minimise the generation of airborne dust from the bauxite stockpiles and the Residue Storage Area (RSA). The licence also requires Alcoa to take specific measures to control the risk of dust generation from oxalate storage.

Alcoa is required to operate three ambient dust monitors at locations to the west, north and south of the RSA. Monitoring data is required to be reported to DWER annually and Alcoa is also required to report to DWER within two working days if the 24-hour average total for suspended particulates (airborne particles or dust) exceeds 260 µg/m3 at any of the three ambient locations. Alcoa has not reported any exceedances of the 24-hour average at these monitors in the last three calendar year reporting periods.

The licence has been amended several times since 2016, including to:

  • update conditions relating to the reuse of hydrocarbon waste oil and align regulatory requirements with those on licences for Alcoa’s Wagerup and Kwinana refineries
  • authorise the construction and operation of the residue filtration facility within the RSA
  • amend conditions for the residue filtration facility to reflect design changes
  • authorise the construction and operation of an emergency spillway within the RSA in response to Alcoa’s audits against Australian and International guidelines for tailings dams. 

Alcoa also holds two active works approvals for works being undertaken at the Pinjarra refinery, including:

  • Works approval W4661/2010/1 for works associated with the conversion of the existing wet RSA 1 to a dry stacked RSA. This works approval has been extended and amended on several occasions to account for project changes
  • Works approval W6393/2020/1 for the construction of a third bioreactor unit at the existing Oxalate Bio-removal Facility.

Works approvals can be accessed on DWER's website.

Groundwater

The licence for the Pinjarra refinery requires Alcoa to implement a groundwater monitoring program, specifying sampling and analysis methodologies.

Portions of the Pinjarra refinery are also classified under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 as possibly contaminated – investigation required. DWER is communicating with Alcoa regarding the further investigations necessary to address the classification.

Compliance

Compliance inspections in 2017 and 2020 did not identify any non-compliances with licence conditions. The requirements of Ministerial Statement 646 were audited in December 2019. No non-compliances were found in relation to dust emissions.

Following an increase in complaints about dust in 2021 and 2022, DWER conducted a targeted inspection in June 2022 which focused on dust control measures at the refinery. The inspection determined that adequate dust control measures were being implemented at the refinery and that Alcoa was complying with its licence conditions relating to dust control.

Alcoa's dust management plan is publicly available on the their website. 

What is happening now?

In September 2022, DWER met with the Shire of Murray regarding complaints of dust received by both organisations. DWER will continue to work collaboratively with the Shire, the community and other relevant Government agencies to investigate the concerns raised. DWER, along with the Department of Housing (DoH) and Shire representatives, will contact residents who have submitted complaints on dust from the Alcoa Pinjarra refinery to arrange a meeting to discuss and respond to their specific concerns.

Between December 2021 and June 2022, DWER collected a number of dust and soil samples from the Pinjarra area, including samples from properties where residents had reported dust impacts which they have attributed the Alcoa operations. DWER submitted these samples to an independent NATA accredited laboratory for analysis. The results were reviewed by the DoH, which advised that the dust composition results do not indicate a health risk.

DoH recommended that further assessment of airborne dust is undertaken to gather further data. DWER is arranging for the air monitoring recommended by DoH to be undertaken. This is expected to commence before the end of 2022 and to continue until at least March 2023.

DWER is also investigating options for undertaking advanced soil and dust analysis to determine the source or sources of dust samples collected from properties reporting dust impacts.

DWER has initiated a review of the Pinjarra refinery licence to ensure it is fit for purpose, accurately reflects the current operational requirements and is aligned with DWER’s risk-based Regulatory Framework. Further information on the licence review framework is available. 

In order to inform the review, DWER will undertake public consultation including advertising on DWER’s website and contacting registered stakeholders seeking comments. Should you wish to register as a stakeholder prior to public consultation commencing, please send your request to info@dwer.wa.gov.au and quote L5271/1983/14.

DWER is continuing to investigate dust complaints relating to Alcoa’s Pinjarra refinery. Anyone who is affected by dust in the area should report this to DWER’s Pollution Watch Hotline on 1300 784 782 or via email at pollutionwatch@dwer.wa.gov.au.

Refinery expansion proposal

The EPA is currently assessing Alcoa’s proposal to increase production at the Pinjarra refinery and increase the rate of bauxite mining at the existing Huntly Mine.

Information on this proposal and the status of the assessment is available on the EPA website.

More information

DWER will update this page as new information comes to hand.

If you have any questions related to this information, please email info@dwer.wa.gov.au.

Page reviewed 19 December 2022