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Recent events in Western Australia has seen the mining industry slammed for lack of transparency due to a prolonged dust monitoring failure in the iron ore town of Port Hedland, Western Australia.
Western Australia’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) outlined in a letter how the organisation responsible for monitoring dust levels in the community – the Port Hedland Industry Council (PHIC), representing the users of the port – did not report ongoing problems to the regulator regarding a key monitoring site for nine months from 2019 until February 2020.
This occurrence follows a separate incident in which one of the world’s biggest open-cut iron ore mines, located in Western Australia’s Pilbra region near the town of Newman, exceeded the limits on dust levels set in the mining licence by a factor of 45.
For Australian headquartered mining and civil services firm Global Road Technology (GRT), these incidents emphasise the importance of a comprehensive and holistic approach to dust suppression due to the dangers high-levels of particulate – in the case of the Newman site it was 40 per cent higher than the national environment protection measure – to mine workers and nearby communities alike.
GRT General Manager, Daniel Grundy believes that prioritisation needs to be placed on implementing the most advanced dust suppression products and services at the source of the pollution as incidents like these jeopardise the social and environmental licence the miners have.
“It is known that long-term exposure to high levels of dust pollution can place extra load on the body with a particular impact on the respiratory system and that some people who live within areas that are impacted by high pollution face a higher probability of having lung issues and cardiac-type symptoms,” said Mr Grundy.
“Due to the arid conditions that occur in much of the parts of Australia where mining activity happens, the problem is exacerbated as the lack of rainfall allows the dust to spread from the site much more quickly and can rapidly increase the dust particulate levels above the recommended amounts. That’s why mitigation is so critical with the core focus needing to be on controlling/eliminating dust by engineering controls at the point of generation – capturing dust, eliminates the hazard.”
To mitigate dust pollution BHP alone plans to spend $300 million over the next five years across its Pilbara operations in an attempt to reduce the impact its operations have on the local communities.
Some experts see this expenditure as critical as for the miners to operate in a socially responsible manner in relation to how they impact the communities that exist close by.
For Daniel Grundy the ongoing controversy around the impacts of mining on the health of workers and communities validates the investment the firm has made from an R&D perspective in range of innovative chemical additives and associated hardware designed specifically for managing and containing dust to protect workers on mining sites and nearby residents and landholders from airborne dust pollution and disease.
“Our products and services are designed for the purpose of reducing the impact of airborne dust on people and operations,” Mr Grundy said.
“These products and their applications are guided by the GRT approach that is based around understanding the risk, and controlling or even eliminating dust by engineering controls at the point of generation. We have developed a specific range of products including the GRT: Haul-Loc, GRT: Activate, GRT: Ore-Loc, and GRT: Wet-Loc that adhere to these principles of either controlling the release of the dust or stopping its spread from the point of generation that require a holistic, whole-of-site approach to ensure maximum effectiveness and to protect the health of workers and communities.”