June 3, 2021: Global metals company Nyrstar on May 24 told a court it had accepted responsibility for a sulfuric acid leak at its Port Pirie lead smelter in 2019, according to Australian news outlets.
The Environment, Resources and Development Court heard that the smelter, north of Adelaide in South Australia, had leaked an estimated 700 litres of the acid into waterways near the site at the end of January 2019, according to court reports.
Nyrstar could face a fine of up to $250,000, to be decided at the next court hearing in July.
How much harm was caused to the area was not quantifiable, the court was told, but the leak was not stopped for at least eight hours.
News agencies quoted Nyrstar lawyer James Levinson saying that a spillage prevention mechanism had failed and the wrong type of valve had been installed in the conveyance pipe.
“There certainly was the best of intentions and the respondent fully accepts that it operates on this site subject to it complying with the law,” Levinson is quoted as saying.
In June 2019, Port Pirie suffered an unplanned outage that caused lead prices to soar by around $250 per tonne.
In November that year the sinter plant had to be closed down to restart the top submerged lance furnace and peripherals before full production could restart after a few weeks’ closure. In June 2020 the smelter owners were told by the Australian Environmental Protection Agency to cap emissions by 20%.
Port Pirie has been in almost continuous operation for 129 years.