WA to review BHP’s Pilbara dust levels

The Western Australian Government is reviewing two of BHP’s Pilbara mining licenses following detection of dust with higher levels of PM10.

The elevated levels were detected by BHP’s air quality monitoring stations, which were built as part of BHP’s dust mitigation plan around its Newman West and Newman East mine sites.

PM10 dust particles are small enough to be breathed in through the mouth and nose, which if inhaled in large levels can cause stinging eyes and a cough or more severe symptoms for people with heart or lung conditions.

The Western Australian Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) is engaging with the Department of Health to review BHP’s licenses, despite BHP confirming that the levels of metals in the air not presenting a public health risk to the Newman community.

DWER has stressed that it has not considered any revocation, suspension or non-renewal processes to any of BHP’s licences, and expects the review to be finalised by mid-2021.

“The department has committed to review the two licences and amend the licences should it be considered appropriate,” a DWER spokesperson said.

“The department is reviewing the BHP licences and will actively engage with BHP in finding appropriate solutions throughout the process. Site visits have been conducted and further engagement will continue throughout the process.

“The department will consider the relevant dust emission sources on the premises and their potential impact on receptors… to ensure that any potential risk to the Newman community is minimised.”

BHP has committed to spend close to $80 million in capital and more than $150 million in operating costs over the next five years to identify new air quality opportunities as part of its Newman Air Quality Roadmap.

The roadmap focusses on several priority areas, such as further improving existing plant controls in line with industry best practices on its top three dust sources (haul roads, loading/unloading and open areas).

It will also focus on research and appointing a dedicated resource to lead dust mitigation efforts at the company’s Newman operations.

“Air quality is complex and the majority of elevated dust events occur in conjunction with specific meteorological conditions,” BHP Newman operations general manager Marie Bourgoin said.

“BHP has worked collaboratively across industry, government and community for many years to address dust management in the Pilbara.

“We are committed to ensuring our contribution to dust in town is as low as practicable. We will be undergoing a licence review in 2021 and as part of this we will work through how best to ensure this outcome is achieved with our employees, the Shire, regulators and the wider community.”

Further, BHP also announced its plans to construct a wind fence at the Finucane Island port operations near Port Hedland, Western Australia, to further address dust issues.

The fence, which would be on the western side of the Finucane Island port, will feature mesh panels designed to reduce wind speeds and shield the stockyard.

This will reduce the potential for dust lift-off and is designed specifically for the extreme wind conditions that often occur in Port Hedland.

“Subject to government approvals, the 30-metre high fence supports our intention to improve and build on existing dust control measures as we continue to increase production towards 290 million tonnes (of iron ore) per annum in the medium term,” BHP Port general manager Nilson D’Avila said.

“We recognise we have a shared responsibility to address dust issues at Port Hedland. The wind fence will be constructed using best practice dust management and air quality control technology.”