Wittenoom visitors dicing with death
The message is clear. Don’t go to Wittenoom.
“Sadly, we know the death toll from Wittenoom won’t stop, until the visitors stop,” Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia CEO Melita Markey says.
The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) has launched a community education campaign to discourage visitors to the closed mining town of Wittenoom, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
“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,” Ms Markey says.
“It appears that many people today are unaware of Wittenoom’s legacy — that it continues to kill.”
Ms Markey acknowledged residents and tourists alike are keen to explore the Pilbara, especially during wildflower season.
Based on 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.
“Wittenoom was established as a blue asbestos mining town in 1937,” she says. “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.
“Microscopic fibres lodge, in the pleura of the lungs and/or in the gut if ingested, for decades, until mutations occur causing asbestos-related cancer.
“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.”
Hear Melita Markey in conversation with Will Yeoman on The Pod Well Travelled.
Remember the victims
The thousands of victims and their families of the Wittenoom preventable asbestos tragedy have never been formally recognised. ADSA is hosting an online petition for a permanent memorial to be erected in Karijini National Park with the names of Wittenoom workers, residents, traditional owners and their family members who lost their lives to asbestos-related diseases. To sign ADSA’s petition for permanent memorials in Perth and the Pilbara, visit change.org/WittenoomMemorial.
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