Port Hedland air quality

Port Hedland is the world's largest volume port for bulk materials export. Iron ore, salt, manganese, chrome and copper concentrates and other commodities, including cattle, fuel and chemicals pass through Port Hedland. Stockpiles containing iron ore, salt, manganese and copper are located relatively close to residential areas at Nelson Point (see image). Heavy vehicles and ships, material stockpiling and handling and a predominantly dry, windy climate contribute to dust (particulate matter) dispersal over the local residential areas.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) raised concerns about the possible impact of dust on the health of Port Hedland residents. In response, the then Premier established the Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce (external site) to co-ordinate and plan a whole of government response for dust management in the town. The Taskforce comprised of industry, and government members and was chaired by the (then) Department of State Development. The Taskforce produced the Port Hedland Air Quality and Noise Management Plan (2010)

In 2016, the Taskforce completed its Report to Government (external site) and submitted it to the then Minister for State Development. The Taskforce Report to Government required various sets of information to inform its recommendations, including a Health Risk Assessment. The Department of Health finalised the Port Hedland Health Risk Assessment in February 2016. In September 2016, the Taskforce provided its draft report to the previous Minister for State Development, who chose not to act on, or release, the report. The then current Government committed to release the report for public consultation, which included interim measures to limit exposure to dust to groups considered most at risk of health effects.

The Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation subsequently released a coordinated Government response in July 2018 (external site), incorporating the views of the community and industry. The Government disbanded the Taskforce and instructed the responsible Departments to give effect to its recommendations, being the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (industry regulation and air quality monitoring) and the WA Planning Commission and Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (land-use planning).

Air quality guideline for Port Hedland

The Government supports the Taskforce recommendation of a 24-hour particulate matter (PM10) guideline of 70 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). The Health Risk Assessment, which was subject to extensive peer review, demonstrated that there would be minimal additional health benefits from adopting the National Environmental Protection Measure (NEPM) standard of 50 μg/m3 for particulates (PM10) measure at the existing population level. It should be noted that no change is proposed to the NEPM guideline for PM2.5, Sulfur Dioxide or Nitrogen Dioxide and Government expects this guideline will continue to be met in Port Hedland.

Air quality monitoring

The operation and maintenance of the air quality monitoring network is now the responsibility of the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (external site) with funding provided by industry in accordance with the polluter pays principle.

Planning conditions

The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (external site) is required to prepare an Improvement Plan and Scheme for the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) to consider under the Planning and Development Act 2005. As such, the WAPC is now the planning and development authority for Port Hedland's West End. An Improvement Scheme removes planning decision-making powers from the Town of Port Hedland and enables the WAPC to administer development controls aimed at implementing the Taskforce's recommendations to restrict residential population growth and other sensitive land uses in the West End.

The Government response also includes a commitment that any future West End planning controls will not prevent the redevelopment of residential properties (provided that the redevelopment would not result in an intensification or expansion of a non-conforming use), should they be more than 75% damaged by a natural disaster, such as fire or a cyclone.

Last reviewed: 17-08-2020
Produced by

Public & Aboriginal Health Division