The legacy of Port Pirie’s 130-year smelting history on the marine environment. What now?

Dr Hazel Vandeleur1, Dr  Craig  Styan1,2, Mr Sam  Gaylard3, Dr Jim Tyler4, Mr Lee  Kolokas5

1University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, 2University College London, Adelaide, Australia, 3South Australian EPA, Adelaide, Australia, 4Nyrstar Port Pirie, Port Pirie, Australia, 5Flinders Ports, Adelaide, Australia

Port Pirie in South Australia hosts the world’s largest lead and zinc smelter, which has been operating for over 130 years. During its operations both direct and indirect emissions from the smelter have resulted in extensive contamination of metals in the environment that has been well documented. Whilst industry has reduced the smelter emissions through time, lead levels associated with human health have been a key focus of Government initiatives and there is little contemporary information to assess whether there have there been any changes in contamination levels in the marine environment.  We reviewed all available literature relating to Port Pirie’s marine environments and compiled spatial and temporal information on metal contamination from the smelter. We then undertook sampling of Port Germein’s surface sediments and confirmed that metal concentrations are still of concern and are greatest nearest the smelter and emission sources, such as First Creek; very similar to patterns found nearly 40 years ago.  Even with changing pollution loads, metals are persistent contaminants and current and historical pollution has accumulated in the system. Some metals may be locked away in non-available forms in habitats such as seagrasses or mangroves, but changing environmental conditions, habitat degradation and development could all result in currently stored metals being remobilised. A true long-term solution to remediate the marine environment at Port Pirie needs a new, innovative solution. Can we utilise the smelter itself to help remediate and address the ongoing, persistent and deleterious impact of metals on sediments?


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