Port Hedland Air Quality

The Western Australian Government acknowledges that dust levels in Port Hedland, located in the State’s Pilbara region, are higher than other areas in the state and appropriate and proportionate steps are being taken 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’s Port is the world’s largest bulk export port and includes a number of individual port facilities regulated by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act). This includes:

  • 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; and
  • 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, situated closest to the port facilities, is an evolving business, tourism and cultural hub. The State Government is committed to ensuring that 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 in Port Hedland. 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’ within the defined area, provided the number of permanent residents remains largely unchanged into the future.

The assessment concluded that for the current population size there is no discernible difference in the level of risk between the Port Hedland AGV and the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (NEPM) standard (50 μg/m3).

Updated October 2020.

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 endorsing the recommendation that the air guideline value (established through the health risk assessment) continues to apply where people live on a permanent basis.

The endorsed recommendations also include the introduction of land use planning measures, which 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.

DWER 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.

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 assist to 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 Pilbara Ports Authority (www.pilbaraports.com.au), which has the lead role in coordinating the scheme on behalf of the State Government.

DWER’s regulatory role

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The department recognises that while the air guideline value is applicable to all residences in Port Hedland, its regulatory approach will rely on maintaining 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 Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act).

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

The department’s objective is to ensure that 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, that impacts are reduced to the lowest practicable level across the whole Port Hedland peninsula and meet the air guideline value east of Taplin Street.

From time to time DWER 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 to 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. DWER’s LiDAR report on its initial analysis of the data is now available. Further data analysis is ongoing, and the findings continue to inform DWER’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, in that it was previously the measurement point for the interim ambient air quality guideline as established by the Taskforce in 2009.

DWER’s review of PHIC’s 2018-19 annual monitoring report identified an unusual pattern of PM10 concentrations at Taplin Street, and 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 2018/2019 to reflect the issues with the data at Taplin Street.

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

PHIC and DWER have separately undertaken analysis of data from the monitoring network over this period, indicating at least nine to thirteen exceedances of the AGV were likely to have occurred at Taplin Street during the period in question.

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).

The Department is now focussing on procuring air quality monitoring services, so that it has full control and oversight of the Port Hedland ambient monitoring network as soon as possible.

What is happening now?

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DWER has commissioned a third-party independent expert consultant based in the eastern states to develop the Dust Management Guideline for Port Hedland.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, it has not been possible for the consultant to visit each of the port facilities which is an integral stage in the development of the guideline.

In the meantime, the consultant has undertaken a literature review of leading dust management controls and formulated a draft outline for the Dust Management Guideline Report.

DWER is actively pursuing all available opportunities to enable the consultant’s review of current site practices in dust management and consider leading practices in the Port Hedland context. Leading dust management controls will be analysed for an implementation scenario guided by dust management effectiveness, practicability and cost effectiveness.

The results of this project will be provided as a Dust Management Guideline Report, which will undergo peer review and then be made publicly available.

Page reviewed 12 March 2021