Wittenoom

The Wittenoom area is affected by asbestos contamination derived from historical mining activities at Wittenoom Mine, Colonial Mine and Yampire Mine.

Asbestos containment and management

The three Wittenoom 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).  

The stockpiles of tailings have been eroded and dispersed over the years since the mining operations have ceased and now extend for several kilometres downstream from the actual mine sites. Tailings were also historically removed from the stockpiles and used on roads and around the townsite as fill.

In 1978, the State government began phasing down the former town of Wittenoom because of concerns over health risks from the presence of airborne asbestos fibres. In June 2007 - Hon Jon Ford MLC, then Minister for Regional Development, announced that the town site had officially been de-gazetted.

Remnants of blue asbestos (the most deadly of all types of asbestos) are still present throughout the Wittenoom Asbestos Contaminated Area, presenting a serious risk to human health.

Wittenoom asbestos management area

The Wittenoom asbestos management area covers an area of 46,840 hectares of land and includes the former townsite, mining areas, Wittenoom Gorge and Joffre Floodplain. This entire area has been classified by the Department of Water and Environment Regulation (DWER) in 2008 as a contaminated site under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003.

The area was declared by DWER and the Department of Health to be "not suitable for any form of human occupation or land use".

Health risks in Wittenoom

As a result of past mining activity in Wittenoom, tiny asbestos fibres remain on the ground and in the air.

The asbestos fibres have been dispersed throughout the area by wind and water erosion of tailings stockpiles at the former mining areas as well as historical use of the tailings for road base and fill around the townsite. The asbestos can be carried by wind and water, and can be disturbed by human activities such as walking or driving through the area, making them easy to inhale.

Exposure to asbestos fibres may result in contracting a fatal disease, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer.

Symptoms of these diseases may not be apparent for extended periods of time after exposure.

Asbestos fibres from past mining operations in Wittenoom have already resulted in thousands of fatalities among miners, residents and visitors to the town.

Stay safe. Do not travel to Wittenoom.

 For further information please visit the Department of Health's website at:

Recent State government actions

The department is leading a coordinated state government approach to manage asbestos in Wittenoom. Recent actions include:

2006: The State government engaged environmental consultants GHD/Parsons Brinckerhoff to undertake an assessment of the extent of asbestos contamination in the Wittenoom location.

2008: The Department of Environment and Conservation classified the area as contaminated- remediation required under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003. They also placed memorials against all certificates of title for properties in Wittenoom.

2010: The Department of Regional Development and Lands (RDL), commissioned an ethnographic and archaeological study of the Wittenoom area to ascertain the significance of the area and heritage sites to Aboriginal people.

2011: A technical workshop was convened by RDL to develop a priority ranking of the seven identified Wittenoom sites and to assess remediation/management options for each of the identified sites.

2012: RDL reconvened the Wittenoom Steering Committee requesting required agencies to nominate a designated staff member to the project.

2013: RDL held the first Wittenoom Steering Committee on 23 April 2013.

2013: The former Department of Lands engaged environmental consultants GHD to undertake feasibility studies on the preferred remediation options for the three highest risk sites at Wittenoom, including; Wittenoom Mine, Colonial Mine and the Wittenoom Gorge.

2013 to present​: The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage is currently working with relevant agencies and stakeholders to raise awareness of the risks posed by Wittenoom to the general public and local Aboriginal people and assess long term solutions for the management of the area.​

Wittenoom Steering Committee

In December 2012, the Department of Regional Development and Lands reconvened the Wittenoom Steering Committee. The objectives of the committee are to:

  1. co-ordinate the resolution of issues concerning the residual asbestos in and around the Wittenoom town site including:
    a) The complete closure of the town of Wittenoom;
    b) Management of the existing sites contaminated with asbestos and tailings, and the standards for remediation;
    c) Minimising the public health and safety risks of asbestos fibres to the traditional owners, and the general public; and
    d) To develop and implement an across government communications strategy on the Wittenoom asbestos issues.
  2. facilitate informed decisions by government departments, agencies and officers in relation to matters affecting Wittenoom and ensuring that, in so far as is consistent with statutory and regulatory obligations, decisions are made in a manner which have proper regard to public health and safety considerations and government strategy as to the future of Wittenoom
  3. provide co-ordinated advice to Government on the resolution of these issues including advice to Cabinet, as required.

Membership

The Wittenoom Steering Committee is made up of senior representatives appointed by each of the following government agencies:

  • Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (Chair)
  • Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Water and Environmental Regulation
  • Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (Mine Safety and Worksafe)
  • Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation
  • The Shire of Ashburton.

Guests may be invited as required.

Alternative destinations to visit in the Pilbara

There are many beautiful destinations in the Pilbara to visit including:

Karijini National Park

Karijini National Park is one of Western Australia's largest national parks and arguably one of the most spectacular. Unbeatable for adventure, the park is famous for its sheer gorges, waterfalls and cool swimming holes.

Tom Price

Nestled deep in the Hamersley Ranges, at the base of the beautiful Mt Nameless, is the town of Tom Price. Tom Price is a picturesque, modern and fully serviced town designed to blend into the natural environment and is a great destination during the sunny winter months.

Nullagine and Marble Bar

With the discovery of gold in 1888, and later diamond and gem stones, Nullagine is unspoilt nature and is a must for the traveller seeking true four wheel adventure and off the beaten track wilderness. Stop in Marble Bar to visit the historic gold rush mining town and the Comet Mine.

 For further information please go to the Department of Tourism website.

Page last reviewed 22 November 2018
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