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The town of Port Hedland (Port Hedland), located in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, experiences high dust levels and receives dust from multiple sources including industrial, natural and other anthropogenic sources.

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). Port facilities have the potential to generate dust emissions and are classified as prescribed premises through Schedule 1 of the Environmental Protection Regulations 1987.  See DWER's fact sheet on managing dust in Port Hedland.

A health risk assessment was undertaken and finalised by the Department of Health in 2016. This investigation focused on the potential impacts on human health from PM10 inhalation by residents in Port Hedland. A central issue was whether the interim guideline of 70 μg/m3 represented a greater risk of developing dust related health conditions from dust exposure in comparison to the risk of developing health related conditions from dust exposure under the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (NEPM) standard (50 μg/m3).

The assessment concluded that for the current population size there is no discernible difference in the level of risk between the interim guideline and the NEPM standard (50 μg/m3). Therefore the interim guideline of 70 μg/m3, averaged over a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight, should provide a level of protection of health and wellbeing for Port Hedland residents equivalent to the NEPM.

In Port Hedland the following port facilities are regulated by DWER:

  • 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.

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 issued or amendment licences and works approvals which are currently open for appeal are available here.

When an appeal has been lodged, it is investigated by the Office of 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. Appeals lodged against decisions on the licences for the BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Port Hedland Port Operations (L4513/1969/18) and Pilbara Ports Authority, Eastern Operations (L4432/1989/14) in 2018 were determined in April 2019.

Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce

On 15 October 2018, the McGowan Government released its response to the 2016 Port Hedland Dust Taskforce Report (the Taskforce Report), which focuses on decreasing dust exposure for residents without jeopardising the industries that underpin prosperity in the Pilbara.  

In keeping with the Government’s response to the Taskforce Report, it is appropriate for DWER to build on its current regulatory approach, with the ultimate aim of improving air quality for the whole of Port Hedland (including West End), to at least achieve the interim air quality guideline in all residential areas of Port Hedland.

This planned approach incudes:

  • developing and implementing best practice dust management guidelines for bulk handling port premises, designed to reduce emissions from port operators;
  • taking control of the ambient air quality monitoring network, subject to negotiations over the configuration of the network and ensuring any incurred costs are covered by industry in accordance with the 'polluter pays' principle; and
  • implementing a coordinated risk-based review and assessment of all port operator licences to incorporate more robust regulatory controls in line with the best practice guidelines.

Port Hedland - Dust 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 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.

Port Hedland Dust Program

In October 2019, DWER launched a five-year Port Hedland Dust Program to implement the Government’s response to the recommendations of the 2016 Port Hedland Dust Taskforce Report.

The program will see DWER take control of the town’s air monitoring network from industry and develop new guidelines to ensure Port Hedland’s bulk handling operators achieve best practice.

Taplin Street monitor

The Port Hedland Industries Council (PHIC) wrote to the department on 7 February 2020, to inform us that PHIC has launched an internal investigation into a data discrepancy with its Taplin Street ambient air quality monitor for PM10.

The Taplin Street monitor is a monitoring station specified in a number of port facilities’ licences. Where specified trigger criteria are exceeded at the Taplin Street monitor, the licence holders are required to take certain management action and/or report information to the department.

The department received PHIC’s Annual Report on its Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Program for the 2018/19 financial year on 13 November 2019.

On reviewing the report, the Department noted that, unusually, no exceedances of the air quality guideline for PM10 (70µg/m3 averaged over 24 hours) were recorded at the Taplin Street monitor, despite all other monitoring stations recording elevated dust levels during the reporting period. Over the previous six financial years, the number of exceedances of the air quality guideline for PM10 at Taplin varied between three and 17 (with an average of nine exceedances).

Considering this unusual pattern, on 26 November 2019 the department requested PHIC provide all data that formed the basis for its 2018/19 monitoring report, to enable it to conduct its own analysis and interpretation (received on 10 February 2020).

PHIC has advised the department that a parallel PM10 monitor was installed at the Taplin Street site on 31 December 2019, and that data discrepancies between the two PM10 monitors at Taplin Street were identified on 15 January 2020. The original Taplin Street PM10 monitor was removed that day, and replaced with another instrument.

PHIC and its contractor are investigating the cause of the discrepancy, but no conclusions have yet been reached. PHIC is currently unclear when the potential fault with the original Taplin PM10 monitor occurred.

PHIC has advised that since the installation of new PM10 monitoring equipment at Taplin Street in January 2020, a parallel monitoring program has confirmed that the monitoring results at Taplin Street are accurate and reliable. The Department understands that PHIC is conducting a network-wide review and further audits to verify the other monitors.

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 (A Memorandum of Understanding for interim industry funding of the network is being developed and is expected to be in place by mid-2020).

The Department will also review the 2018/19 data reported by PHIC, to determine the conclusions that can be drawn about Port Hedland’s air quality over the period.

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Updated 19 February 2020