The former Australian town of Wittenoom, long a ghost town and official de-gazetted – wiped off the map – in 2007, will be closed for good in the near future, report state government officials in a statement issued this week.
The Australian Broadcasting Company reports that The Department of Regional Development and Lands plans to shortly reconvene the Wittenoom Steering Committee in order to commence the final stages for the official closure of Wittenoom, a Western Australia town in the Pilbara region that suffered at the hands of asbestos mining.
Once a love pastoral area, it is considered to be the site of Australia’s worst industrial disaster, not unlike Libby, Montana in the United States.
Mining began in Wittenoom in 1937 when prospectors discovered crocidolite “blue” asbestos in the region. The industry blossomed during World War II and made Wittenoom one of the premiere suppliers of blue asbestos, which was used in the manufacture of planes, battleships, tanks, and even gasmasks.
Though concerns about the toxic dust in Wittenoom have been documented going back to the war years, mining operations continued there until 1966, when it became quite clear that miners and others in the town were suffering greatly due to asbestos exposure. The years following brought considerable air testing and other research and it was eventually determined that Wittenoom could not be saved. So-called “phasing down” started in 1978. As of a few years ago, about 8 people remained, refusing to leave the town.
A 1993 study published in Lung Cancer magazine determined that The Australian Blue Asbestos Company had employed 6,500 men and 500 women in the mining and milling of crocidolite at Wittenoom between 1943 and 1966, and that by 1986, 85 had died of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Hundreds of others were sickened, including those who lived in the town but hadn’t mined the material. The study estimates that some 700 individuals will have developed asbestos diseases by 2020.
Now, as the government of Western Australian makes plans to close the toxic town and try to halt the legacy of death, they’ve announced that they’ll begin by tearing down all remaining buildings and removing all mining equipment and anything else that might attract the unwanted attention of tourists to the area. As many visitors head to the Pilbara region to visit indigenous groups that live in the area, the government also plans to re-route the main route away from the town.