2.3 Regulation and standards

Controlling dust and other emissions is a legal obligation, set out through laws on environmental protection, workplace health and safety, and common nuisance. Environmental regulatory authorities in the various Australian jurisdictions have developed specific criteria for the control of emissions and ambient air quality. Health authorities are also concerned about the risks to human health posed by emissions from mining activities, both on site among workers and off site in nearby communities.

2.3.1 Responsible authorities

The regulation of ambient air quality (outside the workplace) is the responsibility of government agencies in the states and territories, primarily the departments responsible for mining activities and environmental protection. Broad national policy direction on protecting air quality is provided by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of Australia and New Zealand, which incorporates the National Environment Protection Council.

In all jurisdictions, regardless of the administrative arrangements for approving and managing mining activities, the environmental performance criteria that have to be met by mining and industrial activities are established by the relevant environmental protection agencies.

2.3.2 Standards, policies and guidelines

Air quality regulation is achieved by a range of measures under the umbrella of environmental protection laws. Generally, environmental protection or similar legislation in each state sets out general principles and administrative structures. Details of air quality regulation tend to be contained in a hierarchy of separate policies, standards, objectives and guidelines.

Federal programs

At the federal level, the National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs) are the key instruments affecting the mining industry. The most relevant of these are the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) and the NEPM for Ambient Air Quality (EPHC 2009).

The NPI is a national web-based annual inventory of emissions of 93 hazardous substances that pose potential risks to environmental quality. Mining and related activities contribute very significantly to national emissions of particulate matter (including PM10 and PM2.5). By virtue of the quantities of dust emitted, most mines are required to report to the NPI.

The NEPM for Ambient Air Quality sets out objectives, goals, protocols and guidelines for ambient air quality, specifically for six pollutants. Table 2.2 lists the standards and goals.

Table 2.2: Ambient Air NEPM standards and goals

Pollutant

Averaging period

Maximum concentration

Goal within 10 years maximum allowable exceedences

Carbon monoxide

8 hours

9.0 ppm

1 day per year

Nitrogen dioxide

1 hour

0.12 ppm

1 day a year

1 year

0.03 ppm

none

Photochemical

1 hour

0.10 ppm

1 day per year

oxidants (as ozone)

4 hours

0.08 ppm

1 day per year

Sulphur dioxide

1 hour

0.20 ppm

1 day per year

1 day

0.08 ppm

1 day per year

1 year

0.02 ppm

none

Lead

1 year

0.50 µg/m3

none

Particles as PM10

1 day

50 µg/m3

5 days per year

PM10 = particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter, ppm = parts per million, µg/m3 = micrograms per cubic metre

Note: These are the standards and goals defined by the National Environment Protection Council in July 2003; the standards and goals were under review when this handbook was being prepared.

The NEPM ambient air standards were not designed specifically to regulate ambient air quality at and beyond the boundaries of individual industrial and mining facilities. However, they are the same as, or similar to, the criteria used for that purpose by various state and territory regulations.

he 50 µg/m3 PM10 criterion in particular has led to problems of interpretation and compliance for the mining industry, for example, in the Hunter Valley where the combined emissions of multiple mines can affect the air quality in nearby communities. Invariably, other (background) sources of emissions can be significant. For mining projects committed to the application of best practice controls, the 50 µg/m3 criterion is often applied as an incremental goal, that is, the concentration above background emissions from other sources. In Victoria, for example, a total concentration of 60 µg/m3 applies to mines and quarries.

In many parts of Australia the 50 µg/m3 24-hour standard can be breached by the effects of bushfires, deliberate burning-off or dust storms on some days in a typical year.

In relation to the more hazardous finer particles, an advisory NEPM for PM has set numerical values for PM2.5:

  • 8 micrograms per cubic metre annual average
  • 25 micrograms per cubic metre maximum 24-hour average (EPHC 2003).

At this stage, the advisory PM2.5 standard is not formally part of the assessment criteria used in regulation by all states. For example, the Victorian Draft protocol for environmental management—mining and extractive industry sets out an assessment criterion of 36 µg/m3 (24-hour average) (EPA 2006).

State and territory programs

The state and territory authorities responsible for air quality have implemented ambient air quality policies and guidelines specific to their legislative frameworks. In general, though, the ambient air concentration goals for controlling dust and other emissions from mines and related industries are similar across the jurisdictions, and closely reflect the standards set out in Table 2.2. Nevertheless, in each jurisdiction it is necessary to know the actual limits and how they are applied: for example, are they absolute limits or can they be exceeded on a small number of occasions per year?

In addition to airborne particles, deposited dust is a major amenity issue associated with mining. In some states there is no formal guideline for dust deposition, mainly because the relationship between deposition rate and the likelihood of annoyance or complaint is not straightforward. In New South Wales, the dust deposition guideline in residential areas is a maximum of 4 grams per square metre per month in total, while the deposition due to any new activity must not exceed 2 grams per square metre per month. This guideline, or similar, is applied in most states. All states have policies and guidelines pertaining to odour management, aimed at avoiding nuisance in potentially affected communities.

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