Port Hedland Air Quality

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges that dust levels in the Pilbara region can be higher than other areas in the state.

It will continue taking appropriate and proportionate steps in Port Hedland, in particular to ensure there are options for West End residents concerned about dust impacts.

Port Hedland is recognised as a strategic hub for Western Australia’s economy. The town has the world’s largest bulk export port and it includes a number of individual port facilities regulated by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (the department) under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act). These include:

  • BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Port Hedland Port Operations L4513/1969/18
  • Fortescue Metals Group, Anderson Point Materials Handling Facility L8194/2007/3
  • Roy Hill Infrastructure, Roy Hill Port Bulk Handling Facility and Screening Plant L8967/2016/1
  • Pilbara Ports Authority, Utah Point Multi-User Facility Bulk Handling Facility L8937/2015/1
  • Pilbara Ports Authority, Eastern Operations L4432/1989/14
  • Dampier Salt Limited, Port Hedland Port Operations L7179/1997/11.

Port facilities have the potential to generate dust emissions and are classified as prescribed premises through Schedule 1 of the Environmental Protection Regulations 1987.

The West End in particular, closest to the port facilities, is an evolving business, tourism and cultural hub. The State Government is committed to ensuring potential impacts on the health of the Port Hedland community are managed, while balancing the interests of industry, business and other landowners.

A health risk assessment was undertaken in Port Hedland and finalised by the Department of Health in 2016. This investigation focused on the potential impacts on human health from PM10 (dust) inhalation by residents. A key finding from this study was the establishment of an air guideline value (AGV) for PM10 of 70 μg/m3 averaged over a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight.

The Port Hedland AGV was derived using established human health risk assessment techniques and assumptions, and is considered to be protective of the health of a ‘general population’ provided the overall population for the Port Hedland peninsula does not exceed 17,000. This is the modelled population in the Health Risk Assessment, as advised by the Department of Health.

Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce

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On 15 October 2018, the McGowan Government released its response to the 2016 Port Hedland Dust Taskforce Report (the Taskforce Report). In particular, it endorsed the recommendation that the air guideline value (established through the health risk assessment) continues to apply in residential areas of Port Hedland.

The endorsed recommendations also include the introduction of land use planning measures to cap (and if possible, reduce) the number of permanent residents in dust-affected areas of Port Hedland. These measures are intended to prohibit new residential development and sensitive land uses such as aged-care and childcare premises, and restrict population growth west of Taplin Street. The management of fugitive dust from industrial and non-industrial sources was also flagged as an important strategy to control localised sources.

The department is committed to its responsibilities under the endorsed recommendations, which include:

  • developing and implementing a Dust Management Guideline for bulk-handling port premises
  • taking over control of the operation and maintenance of the Port Hedland ambient air quality monitoring network.

The department has published its Port Hedland Regulatory Strategy, which guides the implementation program for these recommendations.

Port Hedland voluntary buyback scheme

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In August 2019, the State Government introduced the concept of an industry-funded voluntary buyback scheme for Port Hedland. It has been developed in response to consultation conducted by the State Government and is expected to be open until 30 June 2023.

The buyback scheme is separate to, but supports, the endorsed Taskforce recommendations relating to restricting population growth in the West End of the Port Hedland peninsula.

The buyback scheme may help address the potential impact on local residential property values caused by the introduction of rezoning related to the Port Hedland West End Improvement Scheme No. 1.

For more information contact the Hedland Maritime Initiative, which has been established to coordinate the scheme on behalf of the State Government.

DWER’s regulatory role and strategy

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To address the recommendations for which the department is responsible, it has established the Port Hedland Dust Program and Port Hedland Regulatory Strategy, with short-term (next five years) and medium-term (5-10 years) regulatory horizons.

The department recognises that while the air guideline value is applicable to all residences in Port Hedland, its regulatory approach will rely on maintaining, and where possible reducing the current risk level (as per the department’s Guideline: Risk Assessments) and the implementation of dust management controls for major industry dust sources. The department’s primary role has always been and will remain the regulation of dust emissions from port operations that are licensed under Part V of the EP Act.

The department’s objective is to ensure dust emissions from premises licensed under the EP Act are not increased in the short term. And, that following the introduction of dust management controls from the Dust Management Guideline, impacts are reduced to the lowest practicable level across the whole Port Hedland peninsula to at a minimum meet the air guideline value at and to the east of the Taplin Street monitor.

From time to time the department receives licence amendment applications in relation to these prescribed premises. Those that require public consultation are published here for stakeholders and interested parties to provide comment.

Recently issued or amended licences and works approvals are subject to an appeal period of 21 days from the time the applicant or approval holder is notified of the issued or amended instrument. The right of appeal is available to the applicant or holder of a works approval or licence and third parties. Recently granted or amended licences and works approvals which are currently open for appeal are available here.

When an appeal has been lodged, it is investigated by the Appeals Convenor, who makes a recommendation to the Minister for Environment. When an appeal has been determined by the Minister for Environment, you can find the appeal determination on the most recent decisions page.

Port Hedland - Dust monitoring campaign

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The department carried out a five-month dust monitoring campaign in Port Hedland using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology and a network of standard dust monitors from February–June 2017 to help determine the location of dust sources and the movement of dust plumes in the air.

The monitoring campaign generated large quantities of data. The department’s LiDAR report on its initial analysis of the data is now available. Further data analysis is ongoing and the findings continue to inform the department’s regulatory decision-making under Part V of the EP Act.

Taplin Street monitor

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The Taplin Street ambient air quality monitor is significant. It was previously the measurement point for the interim ambient air quality guideline as established by the Taskforce in 2009, and is currently used as a reference monitoring location for reporting of dust events mandated through licence conditions.

The department’s review of PHIC’s 2018–19 annual monitoring report identified an unusual pattern of PM10 concentrations at Taplin Street, and it was subsequently advised by PHIC on 6 February 2020 that the monitor had been inaccurate and under-reporting actual dust levels.

PHIC replaced the faulty monitor on 15 January 2020 and has advised the new monitor is delivering consistent datasets.

On 20 April 2020, PHIC revised its published Annual Report 2018–19 to reflect the issues with the data at Taplin Street.

On 14 August 2020, PHIC advised the department it had concluded its investigation, identifying that data from the monitor was potentially inaccurate between April 2018 and December 2019.

PHIC had undertaken analysis of data from the monitoring network over this period, indicating at least nine to 13 exceedances of the AGV were likely to have occurred at Taplin Street during the period in question. The department’s analysis suggests this estimate is at the lowest end of the possible range of exceedances.

During the 2018–19 reporting period other monitoring stations across the network recorded elevated dust levels. Over the previous six financial years, the number of exceedances of the air quality guideline at Taplin varied between three and 17 (with an average of nine exceedances).

What is happening now?

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On 6 September 2021, DWER amended the licence for BHP’s Port Hedland Operations authorising an increase in throughputs from 290 to 330 million tonnes per annum. A copy of the licence and amendment report outlining DWER’s decision can be found on the department’s website.

In accordance with section 102(3) of the EP Act, if you are concerned about, or object to the specification of any condition in the licence you may lodge an appeal with the Minister for Environment by 27 September 2021. The Office of the Appeals Convenor can be contacted on (08) 6364 7990 to find out the procedure and fee.

Tender submissions have been evaluated and the department has appointed Ecotech, a monitoring service provider to support the operation of the network. The service provider was selected through a public tender process. This appointment is a key milestone in achieving the transfer of the network from PHIC to the Department. The full takeover of the network is expected to be completed between July and September 2021. 

Also, third-party independent expert consultants tasked with developing the Dust Management Guideline visited the Port Hedland operations in October 2020 to observe operations and conduct workshops with industry to inform the development of the Dust Management Guideline. This is an integral stage in the development of the guideline.

The consultants now have a comprehensive understanding of current site practices in dust management in the Port Hedland context. Leading dust management controls from around the world will be analysed for an implementation scenario guided by dust management effectiveness, practicability and cost effectiveness.

More information

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


Page reviewed 13 October 2021