Port Pirie Lead Smelter destiny


Having lived in Port Pirie for nearly six years (1978-84), I know some of the story of this interesting town. It truly was "A City of Friendly People" as presented in the byline for the town. But there's always been a shroud having over it, and it's to do with its metals' smelting, particularly lead. 

In the early 1980's there was a massive campaign to clean up and monitor lead dust that had settled in many houses, in roof cavities, in backyards, and in the general environment. Blood lead levels of children began to be monitored, and it continues to this day.

The "Smelter" as it was commonly called, was (and remains to this day) a pivotal part of the town's economy, and contributes significantly to the state economy. But the smelter has had a very chequered history, and now thirty years after the first environment improvement program began, it's a different story with the same problems. For more than 30 years, efforts to control and reduce harmful emissions have had little impact. Lead poisoning continues almost unabated.

The risks of continuing operations into the future are for all to see. The threat of closure is high. $350 million is what is apparently needed to redevelop the smelter to capture the toxic emissions that have been an intrinisc part of the smelter operations since it began in the late 1880's. 

And so it is with immense curiosity that the state government has intervened again in the next chapter of Port Pirie, by introducing legislation into state parliament to give the Manufacturing Minister the final decision on the operating licence thereby negating the power that the state Environment Protection Authority once had.

Here's a recent ABC News release about that matter, and a news item from March 2013 on the redevelopment proposal. There's no doubt that the involvement of state and federal governments will keep the smelter operating. The state government has had a stake in the smelter for 120 years.

But, why has the smelter "redevelopment" been given "major development status" by the state government? After all, it's only about cleaning up the operations of a highly toxic industry.

One can only surmise that there's a lot at stake, not only for Port Pirie but also for the state government and for politicians. But, behind the scenes I suspect there's a lot more to it.

Here's why.

In 2011, the South Australian EPA commissioned Professor Mark Taylor (Professor in Environmental Science at Macquaie University) to prepare a report, "Examination of the relationship between Nyrstar Port Pirie Pty Ltd smelter, airborne lead emissions and environmental health impacts". This was an expert witness report for a criminal prosecution case. 

Nystar is the owner and operator of the smelter.

Read this article Lead poisoning of Port Pirie children; a long history of looking the other way  by Professor Taylor at The Conversation. There are many links in the article to other sources of information.

Now, what of EPA's actions in commissioning Professor Taylor? Could EPA have been sidelined in the smelter redevelopment licencing because it had dug far too deeply into the environmental impacts of lead emissions in the Port Pirie region, or became too implicated in the knowledge of the operation of the smelter? Could it have become "biased" in favour of the environment? Could the EPA have been sidelined because the state government didn't want any obstructions to stand in the way of a "redevelopment"?

Why was the proposed redevelopment accorded "major development status?

Here's what the state government defines as "major development". So, the Minister for Urban Development and Planning is also involved, for it is he (John Rau) who has the say on what is a major development.

There are many questions unanswered. And so, the beat goes on! Could it be because of a story in this collection?

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