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Air Quality




The Kwinana Coastal Fumigation Study



The Pasminco Port Pirie Smelter Study

Port Pirie's famous land mark - the Tall Stack, was built in 1979 to overcome air pollution in the town. At 205 metres tall it is still one of the highest stacks in the Southern Hemisphere. It was designed to disperse gases (mainly sulphur dioxide) to the atmosphere high above the town to ensure a constant air quality. Since the Stack was erected there has been a steady improvement in technology. This has enabled us to gain a greater understanding of the processes and conditions under which our Tall Stack functions.

To assist Pasminco to monitor the air quality in Port Pirie we have also established a network of sulphur dioxide (SO2) monitors around the town and within the Tall Stack itself. These monitors have been linked back to a central computer on the site in order to gather and record atmospheric information.

The monitors have helped us to establish when the air contained elevated levels of SO2 but not the conditions under which elevated levels occurred, or how to control them. This is why Pasminco commissioned the Port Pirie Air Quality Investigations - Relating Emissions to Impacts, study that was carried out in January and February 1996 at a total cost of almost $500,000. A team from the CSIRO, Flinders University and Pasminco used the latest technology to measure and analyse our meteorology in relation to our atmospheric conditions. The findings from the study have now been collated and we have some definite answers to some of the questions that have arisen over the years.


Why do this Study now?

The instruments and technology used in this study only became available in late 1995. We were the first private company to gather all the technology together and commission such an intensive study.

The CSIRO Atmospheric Laser (below)
used to track and measure stack plumes


How was the study carried out?

A Group of 16 Scientists and technicians spent 24 days conducting a field study in and around Port Pirie. They used time-lapse video, a mobile SO2 Analyser, an Atmospheric Laser and a specially fitted air craft to track plumes from the various stacks within Pasminco. The stack plumes were injected with fly ash to ensure that were visible during the study period.

To precisely record the meteorology, they used 3 weather stations, weather balloons and monitors within the air craft. All these instruments gave an overall picture of the exact timing and weather conditions that prevailed when there was an increased level of SO2 in the town, and from which stack the SO2 was emitting.

What did the study reveal?

The study was an outstanding success. We now know what weather conditions relate to elevated incidents of SO2 in the town. We also learnt some very interesting facts about our unique weather pattern here in Port Pirie. Located on a headland, we have extremely complex weather conditions. For example, a sea breeze behaves quite differently depending on whether it is blowing from the Port Davis area or the Port Augusta area. It is also not unusual to have a situation where winds are blowing in different directions on opposite sides of the town. Hot calm (convective) days during summer, increase the complexity of these conditions.

The study also confirmed that for 98.5% of the time the Tall Stack works effectively. The 1.5% of times when the Tall Stack does not work effectively are the times when a sulphurous odour may be smelt throughout the town. This occurs when there is convective weather conditions. Additionally, it was found that other stacks did not exceed the current air quality goals.

Launching weather balloons plumes
Launching weather balloons on the eastern side of Port Pirie
Fly ash stack plumes illustrate how the
complex weather conditions in Port Pirie
can result in the wind blowing in two
opposing directions at the same time

Identifying which stack we need to focus on and understanding Port Pirie's unique weather conditions is the first step towards ensuring the long term improvement of air quality in Port Pirie.

Where do we go from here?

A number of preliminary process and engineering options to reduce SO2 are being examined by an experienced project team at Pasminco Port Pirie. The ultimate aim for this team is to find a feasible way of significantly diminishing the amount of SO2 that goes up the Tall Stack. The team will need to ensure that the final solution is sustainable in terms of the environment as well as meeting the operational and marketing objectives of Pasminco.

This project illustrates the ongoing commitment of Pasminco to the community of Port Pirie. We continuously examine all our processes from both a company as well as a community perspective. Although this project is only in the initial stages we are dedicated to finding the best possible solution for all parties. If anyone has any further questions regarding the Study please contact Ms Susan Rana, Senior Public Affiars Officer, Pasminco - Port Pirie, (086) 38 1206