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Nyrstar faces civil penalty for 2019 toxic material spill from Port Pirie lead smelter

Tue, 06/01/2021 - 10:51 -- Paul Crompton
Nyrstar faces civil penalty for 2019 toxic material spill from Port Pirie lead smelter

Metals firm Nyrstar has settled on a “statement of agreed facts” over a 2019 sulphuric acid spill at its primary lead battery smelting facility in Port Pirie, South Australia.

Netherland-based Nyrstar faces a civil penalty after 700 litres of sulphuric acid was discharged from the company’s Port Pirie smelter site into First Creekwaterways on 31 January, 2019.

The statement was presented to the Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court of South Australia on 24 May.

The ERD Court heard the leak had caused environmental harm by polluting the waterways between 31 January and 2 February, 2019, but the extent of that harm (including dead fish) could not be quantified.

The court heard the acid moved through more than a kilometre of man-made waterways before entering into natural creeks and mangroves and out into Spencer Gulf.

Nyrstar admitted the leak had the potential to cause environmental harm to fish and other plant and animal life in the creek which is an offence under the Environment Protection Act 1993.

In July the ERD Court is expected to impose a civil penalty in relation to the spill.

A ERD statement read: “Nyrstar co-operated with the EPA’s investigation into the incident and made a number of improvements to its plant and practices to reduce the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.

“The company was also required to undertake an Environment Improvement Plan to prevent or minimise any environmental harm attributable to wastewater and contaminated stormwater management.”

A Nyrstar spokesman told BEST: “We are unable to comment, given this matter is before the courts.”

A separate incident on 31 December, 2020, triggered a formal Environment Protection Authority (EPA) investigation.

In a 4 January report, the EPA noted the data showed Nyrstar exceeded its annual average lead-in-air limit of 0.4 μg/m3 at Pirie West on 31 December, 2020, reporting concentrations of 0.41 μg/m3

EPA’s acting CEO Keith Baldry said in the report: “The data also confirms that Nyrstar has exceeded its annual average targets at the Ellen Street and Boat Ramp locations, reporting concentrations of 2.31 μg/m3 and 0.76 μg/m3 respectively.” 

The EPA applied significantly tighter license conditions for Nyrstar at the license renewal on 1 July 2020— effectively requiring a 20% reduction in emissions. 

Port Pirie is an integrated multi-metals recovery plant that can process a wide range of lead rich concentrates and smelting industry by-products. Port Pirie is one of the world’s largest primary lead smelting facilities and the third largest silver producer.

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