Pilbara, a beautiful region of Western Australia, has seen more asbestosis and mesothelioma diagnoses than nearly any other place in the world, and though entire towns have been wiped out by their exposure to asbestos, the problem struck the indigenous community particularly hard.
Aboriginal People at Particular Risk
Photos from the glory days of the region show young Aboriginal men unknowingly risking mesothelioma, riding atop trucks carrying bags of deadly asbestos from the region’s mines to the coastal ports. The men were unable to get any other jobs, so considered themselves fortunate to be hired by the asbestos companies to drive the trucks and load and unload the bags. Today, almost all of them have died from asbestos-related disease.
Medical experts say that thousands of people who lived near or worked in Wittenoom, the town closest to where the blue asbestos mine was located, have died of mesothelioma and asbestos, and the real tragedy is that none were made aware of the dangers that they faced. The asbestos deposit was first discovered in 1915 and the mine first opened in 1938, and the Australian Blue Asbestos mine specifically hired local Aborigines to handmine the deadly material. That company sold its rights to the mine in 1944 to another company, which continued mining activities for the next two decades. Wittenoom quickly attracted Aboriginal people from all over the country, as it was one of the few places that would hire them.
Asbestos Mine Conditions Described as Deplorable
There is little mystery as to why so many of the former workers have been sickened with mesothelioma. Descriptions of the conditions in the mine are harrowing, with workers crammed into close quarters with no ventilation, hand shoveling asbestos into bags.
An employee from the WA Public Health Department warned the mine’s owners, as well as the government, of the risk of asbestosis in 1948, but was ignored. In the meantime, people who lived in the community built their homes using asbestos and allowed their children to play in the asbestos piles. Former residents recall rolling in the carcinogen, and even chewing it like gum. The mine closed in 1966, and by 2007 when thousands had died from asbestos-related diseases, Wittenoom was literally struck from the Australian map: the Western Australian government officially ruled the town off-limits. The Aboriginal population in the region is reported to have one of the highest mesothelioma death rates in the world.
Like the asbestos companies in the United States, the asbestos mine owners in Western Australia could have protected their workers from mesothelioma decades before they closed their mine, but they didn’t. If someone you love has been similarly affected by asbestos, we are here to help Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.