The Wittenoom Wasteland

In and around the now-condemned town site of Wittenoom, the “blue ghosts” of the past still haunt the area. The blue asbestos that was mined there for over 30 years continues to kill people through the insidiousness of mesothelioma. The children of the miners are dying, now, from hugging their fathers when they came home from a long day of mining, covered with dust that no one realized was so deadly. The products of the mine were left where they were dumped when the mine was abandoned, exposing the asbestos to the elements, and leaving the local population at risk.

Here at Lyons Air conditioning, we do a large part of our business in the mining community. We care about the miners and their families, and understand the tragedy of diseases like mesothelioma. To secure the health and safety of mineworkers, we don’t use any kind of asbestos or asbestos-related products in our work. The material has already caused enough damage, and we want to make sure we’re not contributing to problems like those that were seen at Wittenoom. While we can’t fix what took place there, we can certainly make sure what we use is safe for everyone in your family. Lyons Air conditioning also can supply HEPA grade cabin pressurisation to ensure that the air inside the cabin of earthmoving equipment as well as light vehicles is filtered and all nasty airborne particulates are filtered out.

In the Wittenoom area, the blue asbestos has washed down rivers and streams, colouring the landscape. The colour change has happened over decades, and nearly 10 percent of the people who lived and worked there during the time when the mine was going strong have died from causes related to asbestos. It can take decades before asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma to develop, and many of the people who worked at Wittenoom never gave it a second thought at the time. Who would expect to get a deadly form of cancer decades after exposure to something? Most people had forgotten all about it by then.

Once the deaths started, though, there were estimates that as many as 20 percent of the Wittenoom miners were dying of mesothelioma, and that the “official” numbers were underreported based on migrant workers who went back to their own countries and died there, as well as others who moved from the area and were misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. There was more to the story than just what was reported, and even the official death tolls were alarming. Most of Wittenoom closed up in 2007, but the dangers of the tonnes of leftover asbestos remain. There are still residents there and quite a few tourists each year.

It’s in the soil now, and in the water – and that water flows toward towns and cities full of people who could end up at risk. It may take hundreds of years for all the asbestos to be washed away. The water that flushes it away will most likely end up downstream, polluting the drinking water. The filaments of blue asbestos make it the most deadly in the world and the problem doesn’t stop with the mine. The material was used in roads, buildings, and nearly everything constructed in and around Wittenoom, and sold to concrete manufacturers, as well. It’s a serious and frightening issue and the argument over who’s responsible for the clean-up remains ongoing.

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