Mining, mineral processing and the Mount Isa community: Our Air Quality Control Centre

Given our close proximity to the Mount Isa township, we invest significant resources into specialised controls and measures to manage air emissions and dust to reduce exposure to our people and the community.

Perched discreetly on a hill in Mineside overlooking our operations, our Air Quality Control (AQC) Centre has a bird's eye view of Mount Isa. For over 45 years, the AQC team has undertaken day-to-day air monitoring and management activities to ensure we operate responsibly to meet our regulatory requirements.

Today, AQC uses real-time air quality data from our comprehensive monitoring system located throughout the town to monitor and manage sulphur dioxide emissions and dust from our site.

Residents are generally located within 1,200 metres of one of the 13 monitoring stations located across Mount Isa that feed information 24 hours a day, seven days a week to AQC.

Our AQC employees are trained to analyse and predict weather patterns specific to the Mount Isa region and have extensive experience understanding air quality data.

With intrinsic knowledge about our smelters, AQC determine whether potential action needs to be taken to restrict or shutdown our processing operations.

Air Quality Control Supervisor Billy Ramsbotham says every day is different and the AQC team is always working hard to minimise and mitigate any negative impacts from our mining and mineral processing activities.

"I've worked in this role for eight years and as regulations become more stringent we're continually working to improve the way we operate and control," says Billy.

"Even though the data from our monitoring stations suggests that conditions might be similar to other days, how the weather reacts and how the gas mixes in the atmosphere is different day to day."

For most of the year, Mount Isa receives the majority of wind from the east and south-east which assists in minimising emissions impacting the community that is located directly to the east of our operations.

However, weather forecasting is sometimes an imprecise science and unfavourable conditions often make it challenging for AQC in terms of balancing production and limiting community impacts.

That's why AQC is independent from our smelter operations and it works with smelter operators and the Incitec Pivot Acid Plant to manage our emissions.

AQC provides daily forecasts and planning advice to our smelter operations and can reduce or shut down smelter operations if emissions can't be managed within acceptable limits for sulphur dioxide.

One of the biggest challenges Billy says is the decision-making related to the role.

"Our training is very hands on and when I started we were mentored and partnered with an experienced Air Quality Controller for around 12 months," says Billy.

"Each smelter is different due to fluctuating production levels and varying stack heights and then you have to factor in the prevailing weather conditions, so knowing when to take corrective action is really important."

The important work of the AQC ensures we work within our regulatory limits while minimising the community exposure to emissions and dust.

The AQC alert process

  • Green – Unrestricted operations: Weather conditions indicate no changes are required to our operations
  • Orange - Standby, pending restrictions: Potential need to reduce operations or shut down to manage emissions due to a pending change in weather conditions

  • Red - Reduced operations: Smelters must reduce operations to lower emissions and prepare to potentially shutdown immediately.

Our Air Quality Control Centre monitors real-time air quality data and conditions at ground level to manage operational emissions to an acceptable level for our people and the Mount Isa community.

In 2019, smelting operations were restricted for a total of 1,727 hours, or more than 71 days, which is close to 20% of the smelters annual operational time.