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.
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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.

Port Hedland’s current air quality, as recorded at the department’s nine monitoring locations, can be viewed at our Port Hedland air quality monitoring network website. Historical data can also be downloaded.

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

On 15 October 2018, the State 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 (PDF), which guides the implementation program for these recommendations.

Port Hedland voluntary buyback scheme

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

To address the recommendations for which the department is responsible, it has established the Port Hedland Dust Program and Port Hedland Regulatory Strategy (PDF), 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 (PDF)) 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 list of recent decisions.

Port Hedland - LiDAR monitoring campaign

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

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 the Port Hedland Industries Council’s (PHIC) 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?

Control of the network monitoring air quality in Port Hedland has been transferred to the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER), fulfilling a key recommendation of the Taskforce that was accepted by the State Government in 2018.

DWER has appointed third-party specialist air quality contractor Ecotech to operate and maintain the Network, and live-streaming of the air quality data from DWER’s website commenced on 1 January 2022. Historical data can also be downloaded.

The Network configuration remains largely the same, comprising nine monitoring stations, including two background monitors. On advice of the Department of Health (DoH), DWER will monitor PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micron in size) concentrations at all existing monitoring sites where residents are located. DWER will share air quality data with DoH to inform their assessment of health risks to residents across the Port Hedland peninsula.

DWER will analyse the air quality data gathered each calendar year and produce an Annual Report, identifying air quality trends and delivering an objective view of the impacts of dust on Port Hedland.

Further community engagement will be undertaken in 2022 around interpreting monitoring data and to understand community expectations for the Network and DWER’s annual reporting.

The third-party independent expert consultants tasked with developing the Dust Management Guideline have now provided it for the department’s review. The Guideline has been informed the consultants’ observations during a visit to the Port Hedland operations in October 2020, workshops with and information provided by Port Hedland industry regarding their current dust management practices, as well as a review of leading dust management controls around the world. The Dust Management Guideline Report prepared by the consultants will undergo peer review and then be made publicly available in later in 2022.

Implementation of the Dust Management Guideline will be guided by assessment of dust management effectiveness, practicability and cost effectiveness.

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.

Pursuant to section 102(3) of the EP Act, an appeal was lodged by a third party against the licence amendment. The status of this appeal can be followed at the Office of the Appeals Convenor website.

More information

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

 Updated March 2020