The Environment Protection Authority has toughened its approach to the local smelter, with a new licence outlining stricter requirements for the plant’s operation.
The new changes relate to the operation of the Port Pirie facility in the short term, but also require Nyrstar to assess and develop a plan for the long term.
Deputy chief executive at the EPA, Tony Circelli, said the current licence had been comprehensively reviewed and additional challenging requirements were placed on Nyrstar, with the main goal for recommended blood lead levels to be met.
“While there have been significant achievements, it remains a fact that blood lead levels in some children are still above the National Health and Medical Research Council recommended blood lead levels,” he said.
“We recognise the commitment by Nyrstar in achieving a significant reduction in children’s blood lead levels and we also acknowledge the reduction in lead emission achieved through its $50 million investment in programs such as tenby10, which over a five-year period reduced the children with blood lead levels above 10 micrograms per decilitre from 60-per cent to 28-per cent.”
Since the tenby10 program has ended, the EPA has continued to oversee the smelter’s compliance with current lead emission reduction programs.
Last month, Nyrstar developed a revised environment improvement program, which included improvements to materials handling areas, the sinter plant and blast furnace.
Mr Circelli said achieving the health and research council’s recommended blood lead levels had always been the goal.
“In the longer term, Nyrstar will be required to achieve a further substantial reduction in emissions, which is not considered technically possible with the current smelter technology, to ensure that the health and research council’s recommendations for blood levels are being met,” he said.
The variations to the smelter’s licence will impose new air quality limits for lead in the air at key monitoring sites at Oliver Street and Pirie West Primary School.
Mr Circelli said these were enforceable limits that must be met. “In addition, Nyrstar is required to undertake high volume air sampling at all sites,” he said.
The EPA has said the environmental improvement program will require Nyrstar to assess international best practice for lead smelting, and to provide timelines and actions to introduce technology and the required process changes and abatement that meet this best practice.
“The program will require Nyrstar to assess what emission reductions will be achieved by these technologies,” they said
Nyrstar declined to comment on the new licence.