Asbestos contamination in the town of Wittenoom in Western Australia has claimed at least 1,200 residents’ lives, but the fear of mesothelioma and lung cancer has not been enough to keep tourists away, or even to chase away residents. Now the government is taking drastic steps. A bill authorizing clearing the former town and compensating land owners is expected to pass in Parliament in the next few days.
Notorious Asbestos Town Attracts Visitors Despite Mesothelioma Risk
Wittenoom is notorious for its asbestos contamination, but rather than keeping people away, its reputation has turned it into a tourist attraction. The town was once home to a mine that left more than three million tons of tailings behind, and the deadly fibers continue to infiltrate the air and the ground, where it can be inhaled and lead to malignant mesothelioma. Still, long-time residents and recent transplants are loath to leave. Even those residents that have accepted compensation continue to return, drawn by the area’s beauty and warmth.
The government grew particularly concerned about the risk of mesothelioma when the pandemic inspired Australians to travel around the country. According to resident Mario Hartmann, many people traveled there despite warnings. “I’ve never seen that many people come here, some days you would have 50, 60 cars going out to the gorge and the asbestos tailings,” he said.
“People Putting Themselves Unnecessarily at Risk” of Mesothelioma
Speaking of the government’s decision to demolish the town’s remaining structures, Curtin University Associate Professor Alison Reid said, “We know that the risk of mesothelioma can occur with low exposure, so I think in that case it should be closed.” Reid has studied the health impact of the mine, which the University of Western Australia’s Occupational Respiratory Epidemiology Group says has led to Western Australia having the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world.
In an effort to put an end to mesothelioma risk, the government has removed the town from official maps, declared it a contaminated site, and posted warnings against visiting. Despite this, visitors keep coming, and Lands Minister Tony Buti said that they are spreading deadly particles to the general public. Though locals implored the government to clean the area up rather than remove and bar residents, Buti said, “We must be realistic, and the fact is it’s unlikely Wittenoom will ever again be a safe place to live or visit.”
Asbestos’ ability to cause mesothelioma persists for decades. If you or someone you love has been exposed to this deadly material, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.FREE Mesothelioma Packet