Living near one of the world’s busiest bulk export ports, Port Hedland residents are accustomed to dealing with some level of dust. However, recent real-time monitoring data has revealed that dust levels in this northern Western Australian town exceeded air quality guidelines on more than 60 occasions during the latter half of last year.

Roger Higgins, a resident of Port Hedland for the past 12 years, expressed that the current dust levels are the most severe he has ever witnessed. According to Mr. Higgins, “You can’t leave your car parked for more than 48 hours without having to clean the windscreen.”

He further emphasized, “I can say without any doubt that it has never been as bad as it is now. One of my employees mentioned that she’s astounded by the amount of dust settling on their property and vehicles.” In 2016, the WA Department of Health conducted a risk assessment in Port Hedland, focusing on the potential health impacts of dust exposure.

As a part of this assessment, the department established guidelines, referred to as the air guideline value (AGV), to define acceptable dust levels within the town. Between July and December 2023, air quality monitors registered dust concentrations exceeding the AGV on 65 occasions.

Located 1,600 kilometers north of Perth, the Port of Port Hedland facilitates the export of millions of tonnes of iron ore monthly. In December alone, the throughput surpassed 50 million tonnes, predominantly comprising iron ore shipments destined for overseas markets.

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Persistent concerns regarding dust pollution in Port Hedland led to the extension of a voluntary buyback scheme until 2025, enabling residents living near the port to sell their properties. Mr. Higgins firmly believes that the port operations are the primary source of the excessive dust in the town, stating, “The dust problem is unique to Port Hedland. It’s undeniably originating from port activities.”

However, the Port Hedland Industries Council (PHIC), representing the port and its stakeholders such as BHP and Fortescue, argues that multiple factors contribute to the dust levels. Acknowledging natural sources like the arid landscape of the Pilbara region and urban and industrial development, the PHIC also cites ongoing construction projects as potential contributors to dust emissions.

Additionally, the PHIC highlights bushfires and hazard-reduction burning as environmental factors influencing dust levels. In November, an air quality monitor on Taplin Street consistently exceeded the AGV for a week, with a notable spike recorded on November 11, reaching three times the AGV. This period coincided with firefighting efforts against numerous blazes across the Pilbara region due to lightning strikes.

In early January, another surge in dust concentrations was observed, attributed to high winds during the initial days of 2024, possibly compounded by smoke from regional fires. The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER), responsible for evaluating dust data, asserts that the majority of dust events appear to be regionally driven, rather than solely attributable to industrial activities in Port Hedland.

Currently, DWER is developing dust management guidelines for Port Hedland, expected to outline expectations for dust control and monitoring by bulk-handling port facilities. The Port Hedland Industries Council emphasizes its members’ commitment to enhancing dust management and mitigation efforts.

For instance, BHP is experimenting with vegetation barriers in collaboration with Curtin University and Greening Australia, aiming to capture natural and industrial dust. Additionally, BHP is constructing Australia’s inaugural wind fences, designed to diminish dust emissions, as part of its $300 million air quality initiative.


Dust suppression is a critical issue in the world of mining and resources.

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