Smelter changes sideline EPA, says scientist

An environmental scientist says standards for Port Pirie's lead smelter could be compromised under a deal to transform the ageing operation.

Professor of Environmental Science at Macquarie University, Mark Taylor, said he was generally supportive of a proposed $350 million redevelopment of the Nyrstar smelter, in the South Australian industrial city.

A big reduction in the city's lead levels is being promised.

But the deal is dependent on the SA Government promising to veto any changes to Environment Protection Authority (EPA) regulations on lead levels over the next decade.

Professor Taylor said that turns the EPA into a toothless tiger.

"It is contrary to the intergovernmental agreement on the environment, which is signed by all states and territories, which basically says no matter where people live they should have the equivalent protection from air, water and soil pollution," he said.

"It's disappointing that they will remove the teeth of the EPA whose job it is to regulate matters that they know about, matters that they're especially trained in.

That aspect is disappointing because it's a gift to the industry." Manufacturing Minister Tom Koutsantonis defended the Government's position.

"I think it's fair to say that if Nyrstar left, this town would die," he said.

Greens leader Mark Parnell said the EPA should have full authority to do its job properly.

"The health of children is really too important to sacrifice to some deal stuck between the Government and the company.

The EPA needs to be put back on the case," he said.

'Dancing in the streets' Nyrstar has agreed in principle to build a new metals processing and recovery facility, transforming the smelter's work.

For a city which has worried for years about lead levels, especially affecting children, Australian Workers Union official Wayne Hanson said it was great news.

"The whole regional community of Port Pirie has every reason to be dancing in the streets.

This is a fantastic outcome," he said.

The SA Opposition said it welcomed the announcement but Deputy Liberal Leader Steven Marshall said some caution was warranted.

"This is not the announcement of a $350 million expansion, this is the announcement of a feasibility study for a $350 million expansion," he said.

Nyrstar is keen for the facilities to be redeveloped and operating by 2016.

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