The asbestos-riddled town of Wittenoom is the largest contaminated area in the southern hemisphere. During the 1950s Wittenoom was known as the Pilbara region’s largest town, a monument of prosperity. But today, it is a ghost town. Despite the very clear health risks of travelling to the area, people have continued to visit Wittenoom. It was reported in 2020 that thousands of travellers still visited the ghost town every year as a form of extreme tourism.
Established in the 1940s by Australian Blue Asbestos Limited for its workers, Wittenoom was once a booming mining town. The town was originally constructed to support the local mine. From 1950 until the early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of asbestos with around 161,000 tons being mined. During that time, approximately 20,000 people lived and worked in the town.
The mines operated in the area during the 1930’s up until 1966 and produced waste material called tailings, which contain varying amounts of residual blue asbestos fibres (crocidolite). More than 2,000 workers and residents of Wittenoom have died from asbestos-related diseases and there were concerns about urban explorers who still visited the area, despite signs warning of the deadly risks.
During the mining operations, more than 20,000 men, women and children lived at Wittenoom. It is now estimated that over 25 per cent of all the men who worked in the mines will die of asbestos-related diseases. The once-thriving town is now a virtual ghost town. Shops are boarded up. The two schools are closed.
The whole Wittenoom was laid with asbestos tailings as road surfacing, when you stepped off the plane there was a flurry of dust which contained asbestos fibres. CSR blue asbestos mining and milling at Wittenoom has had a significant impact on all Australians. Wittenoom was de-gazetted in 2007 and classified as a contaminated site in 2008 by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. As of 2018 Wittenoom had only three permanent residents.
The Wittenoom Closure Bill was reintroduced to Western Australian Parliament in August 2021, and was passed on 24 March 2022. The bill, reinstated by Lands Minister Tony Buti, is to enable the compulsory acquisition and demolition of the 14 remaining privately-owned properties in the former townsite. It is hoped the clearing of the former townsite will reduce the attraction for visitors who ignore significant health warnings of asbestos fibres on the ground and in the air at Wittenoom.