MoneyPort Pirie's lead smelter at risk of breaching licence to operate due to spike in lead levels

01:30  09 november  2018
01:30  09 november  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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Plants for the production of lead are generally referred to as lead smelters . Primary lead production begins with sintering. Concentrated lead ore is fed into a sintering machine with iron, silica, limestone fluxes, coke, soda ash, pyrite, zinc, caustics or pollution control particulates.

The lead smelter and grain silos of Port Pirie , South Australia. However, after both became part of Australian National in July 1975 and trains began to operate in and out with the same locomotives, trains began to operate via Coonamia station on the outskirts of the city.

One of the world's largest primary lead smelting facilities is at risk of breaching its licence to operate because of a spike in lead in air levels.

The potential licence breach comes amidst concerns from the Australian Workers Union that up to 100 jobs could be lost at the facility.

Port Pirie's Nyrstar smelter, in South Australia's Mid-North, has recently undergone a $660 million redevelopment, of which the former State Government underwrote nearly half, roughly $291 million.

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Overexposure to lead is a leading cause of workplace illness in the lead industry. Employees working in secondary lead smelter plants are exposed to one of the highest lead exposure levels among all lead -related Smelting is the process of reducing reclaimed lead compounds to elemental lead .

The smelter in Trail, British Columbia was historically operated by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (COMINCO) until COMINCO merged with Teck in 2001, and has processed lead and zinc since 1896. Smoke from the smelter caused damage to forests and crops in the surrounding

Part of the development included a new furnace, which was touted to reduce emissions throughout the city.

That furnace opened earlier this year.

But, a recent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) report revealed lead in air levels had risen to their highest point since 2014.

Now, internal emails from the Nyrstar site's general manager Mark Zaborowski, obtained by the ABC, reveal the company believes it is at a "critical point" in terms of lead in air levels.

"We are at risk of breaching our licence to operate this quarter," the email said.

Port Pirie's lead smelter at risk of breaching licence to operate due to spike in lead levels© Provided by ABC News Port Pirie's Nyrstar lead smelter, before the $660 million redevelopment began.

The internal emails indicate that the smelter will need to cut emissions by half in order to not breach its licence.

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Nyrstar Port Pirie smelter is part of Nyrstar, a global multi-metals business, with a market leading position in zinc and lead , and growing positions in other base and precious metals, such as copper, gold and silver. Nyrstar has six smelters , one fumer and four mining operations, located in Europe

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"The licence limit is 0.5 mg/dL, we are currently above that to the point where we will need to run at less than 0.25 mg/dL for the remainder of the year.

"Unless we all make a change to the way we operate or to [the] way we think about fugitive emissions, the potential for us to breach the limit will become a fact.

"If there are fugitive emissions from any the sinter plant, the slag fumer, the kilns or from the TSL furnace then we need to shut down that plant and fix the issue.

"Our lead in air impact is not only from the various emissions from the operating plants, it is also from the accumulation of dried material on our roads and building structures."

Another email confirms that the site's sinter plant — a key component of its operation — will be closed for six week at the end of November to bring emissions down and to try and avoid a license breach.

Mr Zaborowski stated in his email to staff that the decision was a difficult one.

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Lead smelting began operations at Port Pirie in 1889. Save Comp. .00. Licensing , Prints & Other Options. Learn More. Standard Licensing Terms. Included.

BLOOD lead levels among children in the South Australian town of Port Pirie have increased, health officials say. South Australia' s director of public health Kevin Buckett said the increase in lead exposure had to be monitored carefully and went against recent efforts to reduce blood levels .

"This decision brings its own risks to the business both financially and operationally but I firmly believe that it is the right decision to make to ensure that environmentally we do not breach our licence condition," Mr Zaborowski wrote.

Full site clean-up underway

Nyrstar's concerns surrounding the breach come as the company undergoes a full site clean-up at the Port Pirie facility on November 8.

Major plant components are being closed to allow for a clean.

Staff from multiple departments will be redirected from their usual roles to help.

In a statement to the ABC, Nyrstar said the clean was part of its commitment to reducing lead in air levels at Port Pirie.

"A large number of employees will be able to participate in activities focused on reducing and addressing emissions within the plant rather than operating plants for this period of time."

The clean up comes as Nyrstar's share price falls to its lowest point in three years.

The company was trading at a high of $5.28 in August, but it has fallen to $1.51 in recent days.

EPA not ruling out revoking licence

The Environment Protection Authority issues licences to operate to facilities like Nyrstar's Port Pirie lead smelter.

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elevated blood lead level : household members who worked with lead in their occupations; living in a house with flaking paint on the outside walls; biting finger to have relatively dirty hands; and living on a household block with a large area of exposed dirt. A program to reduce the risk of elevated blood

lead levels during pregnancy is at greater risk of a prematurely birth or with a low birth weight.[37] Children are more at risk for lead poisoning fumes, it is generally safer to seal the lead paint under new paint (excepting moveable windows and doors, which create paint dust when operated ).[99]

Keith Baldry from the EPA SA said, under extreme circumstances, Nyrstar could have its licence revoked.

"That could happen," he said.

"That would obviously be at the most serious end of offending against the Environment Protection Act.

"That would obviously have serious consequences for any particular operator."

Mr Baldry said fines for breaching licence could range from hundreds of dollars, to a revocation of that licence.

"There are a whole range of businesses that we licence, from small operators up to large ones," Mr Baldry said.

"If we were to seek a larger penalty, that would either be through the civil penalty process, or through the courts."

Current government concerned

The former South Australian Labor government underwrote nearly half of the redevelopment as part of deal struck with Port Pirie's local MP, Geoff Brock.

Mr Brock requested it after a hung parliament situation left him as the kingmaker.

Current Liberal Treasurer Rob Lucas said concerns about the lead in air levels are concerning.

"For the people of Port Pirie and the community and the workers there, it'll be an issue of concern," Mr Lucas said.

Mr Lucas said lead in air levels would be a topic of discussion when he met with Nyrstar's global head next month.

"As Treasurer, the key issue we have to drive is the shape and structure of the deal that's been struck," he said.

"The requirement, from the government's viewpoint, that they make their repayments.

"[Nyrstar] haven't made significant repayments in May of this year, they've indicated they're not going to make significant repayments in November."

As part of the underwrite deal, Nyrstar were expected to repay the $291 million loan to the State Government in instalments, but without set intervals.

"There is a legal doubt about the enforceability of the repayment regime that [the former Labor government] entered into," Mr Lucas said.

"There is no provision to protect the number of workers jobs in Nyrstar, which just seems extraordinary."

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