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Please Do Not Visit Wittenoom – It Is Not Safe

The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) has a launched a community education campaign to discourage visitors to the closed mining town of Wittenoom, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

“Sadly, we know the death toll from Wittenoom won’t stop, until the visitors stop,” said ADSA CEO Melita Markey.

“After disturbing images were flashed across social media of ‘adventure tourists’ playing in the deadly dust of Wittenoom, we decided to monitor this behaviour to develop a communications strategy that would get the message through that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, especially in relation to contracting incurable mesothelioma cancer.”

“It appears that many people today are unaware of Wittenoom’s legacy – that it continues to kill,” said Ms Markey.

Western Australia has one of the highest incidences of malignant mesothelioma in the world per capita. Across the country, one person dies every 12 hours from mesothelioma.

Ms Markey acknowledged that residents and tourists alike are keen to explore the Pilbara especially during wildflower season. Based on our research demonstrating multiple social media posts each week, it is clear that tourists, photographers, campers and even young families, are still visiting Wittenoom on a daily basis.

“The CSR Wittenoom Mine and Mill is the greatest example of workplace negligence in Australia, and second in the world to date,” said Ms Markey.

“Wittenoom was established as a blue asbestos mining town in 1937. Despite health warnings as early as 1948, it continued to operate until 1966, killing thousands of workers, their families and town visitors.”

“The contamination of town and its surrounding gorges continues to kill Traditional Owners and visitors to the region,” said Ms Markey.

As outlined by the Hon Alison Xamon MLC in her 2018 Parliamentary Speech, asbestos had been used primarily in WA’s building and manufacturing industries since the 1920s. From 1943 to 1966 more than 20,000 people lived and worked at Wittenoom.

In 1993, it was estimated that 40,000 tourists were still visiting the area. This led concerned members of parliament to establish an inquiry into Wittenoom and Tourism. A Report tabled in 1994, by the then MLA Larry Graham, found that Wittenoom was contaminated; 34 recommendations were subsequently made including ‘cleaning up the township and surrounding areas’.

“The report did not gain traction and today the town and surrounding areas are so contaminated, we are potentially looking at new generation asbestos diseases victims.”

“It’s important to note that it is the microscopic fibres that you can’t see, that cause the most harm. People think if they stay away from the mountains of asbestos tailings or wear a Covid mask, that they’re protected – they are not,” said Ms Markey.

Fibres lodge, in the pleura of the lungs and/or in the gut if ingested, for decades, until mutations occur causing asbestos related cancer.

“These diseases are preventable but for profit, indifference and the lack of corporate governance in allowing CSR to close the mine without cleaning up the environment,” said Ms Markey.

The thousands of victims and their families of the Wittenoom preventable asbestos tragedy have never been formally recognised. The ADSA is currently hosting an online petition for a permanent memorial to be erected in Karijini National Park with the names of the thousands of Wittenoom workers, residents, traditional owners and their family members who lost their lives to asbestos-related diseases.

As the time between initial asbestos exposure and the onset of symptoms is usually 20 to 50 years, ADSA will also be allocating space on the memorials for the hundreds, even thousands, of victims that have yet to be diagnosed.

According to Ms Markey, the memorial will serve a dual purpose:

  1. Acknowledgement of the sacrifice of these lives in the desire for WA mining development
  2. A meaningful deterrent for those tempted to visit Wittenoom

“So these September school holidays, please do not take your family to Wittenoom. There are lots of much safer camping grounds near beautiful gorges and watering holes in the Karijini National Park.”

“If you’re looking for some family fun closer to Perth, the town of York is hosting more than 100 family-friendly events over the two-week holidays and they have spectacular wildflowers on display at this time of year,” said Ms Markey.

To sign ADSA’s petition for permanent memorials in Perth and the Pilbara, please visit www.change.org/WittenoomMemorial.

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For all Media Enquiries:
Estelle Buzzard, Buzz Communications
0437888019 / Estelle@buzzcommunications.com.au

For a Health Check, please call ADSA on 1800 646 690.
For any Workplace Concerns, contact WorkSafe on 1300 307 877.


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