Dust Emissions - Cockburn Cement Plant, Munster

Cockburn Cement is the leading supplier of quicklime and cement products in WA. With a total lime production capacity in excess of one million tonnes, the Cockburn Cement plant is the largest lime producer in Australia.

The plant commenced operations in 1951. Since this time, the surrounding areas have been turned into residential developments and residents are being seriously affected by the emissions from the plant.

In 2010 I presented a series of petitions to Parliament totalling 1231 signatures. The petition called for immediate action to be taken to stop Cockburn Cement from emitting dust and odours from its operations in Russell Road, Munster. The petition was referred to the Standing Committee on Environment & Public Affairs, of which I am a member, for investigation. The resulting Committee report that was tabled in October 2011 culminated in Government action that reduced the level of the emissions from March 2012.

However my office still receives complaints about cement dust and odour emissions from residents living close to the Cockburn Cement plant. These particularly affect residents living to the north-east of the plant as they catch the emissions being blown in their direction on the south-westerlies, but also residents to the west of the plant when the easterlies are blowing.

There are four operational kiln stacks at the plant, (number 3, 4, 5 & 6) with numbers 5 & 6 being the biggest contributors to dust emissions. The plant has electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) installed on all of these kiln stacks that are designed to capture the dust particles. However the ESPs fail in the case of electricity outages, instrumentation oversensitivity or the presence of combustible gases. When the ESPs are tripped, it triggers a dust ‘event’ and households downwind from the plant are coated with cement dust.
There are proven health effects from cement dust exposure, as reported in a 2010 Department of Health study of nearby residents. The symptoms were consistent with known effects of cement dust exposure, namely lower respiratory tract problems, and to a lesser extent to the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, ears) and skin. Other reported symptoms included headaches, eyes irritation and gastrointestinal symptoms.

In addition residents complain they are unable to open their windows during hot weather to allow the cooling breezes in, and suffer the continual nuisance of having to clean cement dust from their homes and gardens, in the knowledge that their children are being exposed to cement dust when playing outdoors.
 
In response to well-organised community pressure, an inquiry and a report tabled in Parliament by my Parliamentary Committee, the Government did impose a new licence condition (installation of a baghouse filter) for the worst-emitting kiln, Kiln 6. This came into effect in March 2012, with a further licence condition to install a baghouse filter on Kiln 5 by mid-2013. The baghouse is a physical barrier between the process and the exhaust stack, and continues to work when the electricity supply fails. According to Cockburn Cement, it is expected to capture 70% of the emissions. Cockburn Cement has recently confirmed to my office that the Kiln 5 baghouse filter is under construction and is due to be installed by end of June 2013.

The Parliamentary Inquiry found that the relevant decision-makers and governmental bodies failed to appreciate and address the complex planning issues associated with Cockburn Cement’s Munster plant and the surrounding areas. Local residents are the ones who are still paying the price for this inaction. I will continue to monitor the situation after the Kiln 5 bag filter is installed and I invite residents to contact me if they are still experiencing problems from July 2013 onwards.

More information is available in the attachments below.

 

Attachment Size
WA Health Department Study 190.27 KB
Parliamentary Inquiry Executive Summary 66.19 KB
Baghouse Filter Factsheet 156.9 KB