WITTENOOM

WITTENOOM, AUS­TRALIA

iD magazine - - Current Events -

RE­STRICTED AREA

Wittenoom is lo­cated in the out­back of Western Aus­tralia. Signs warn mo­torists about driv­ing through the ghost town, which to this day is still con­tam­i­nated.

WHERE IS THE MOST TOXIC TOWN IN THE WORLD?

Big con­spic­u­ous warn­ing signs stand sen­tinel in the mid­dle of nowhere in Western Aus­tralia. There is noth­ing to be found on the map of the area. If you de­cide to go on de­spite all of the warn­ings, houses sud­denly ap­pear, then en­tire apart­ments blocks, a small church… Th­ese are the ru­ins of a city that’s now the most toxic ghost town in the world. But what drama does this place hide? For decades blue as­bestos had been ex­tracted from the Wittenoom mines. ( It was a pop­u­lar build­ing ma­te­rial un­til the mid­dle of the pre­vi­ous cen­tury.) Busi­ness was boom­ing—and it was killing off the in­hab­i­tants of Wittenoom bit by bit. Blue as­bestos is ac­tu­ally the most toxic of all the types of as­bestos; it splits up into fine air­borne fibers and en­ters the lungs, where it pro­ceeds to cause se­ri­ous dam­age. In 1966 the as­bestos mines in Wittenoom were shut down, but it was al­ready too late for the 20,000 in­hab­i­tants of the town: At least 1,000 work­ers, res­i­dents, and even vis­i­tors had died from can­cer or se­vere lung disease. Con­tam­i­na­tion of Wittenoom re­mained so high that it was de­clared a con­tam­i­nated zone by the gov­ern­ment in 2007. The ghost town was stripped of its city sta­tus and be­came the most for­bid­den place on the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent. It was erased from the road signs, ad­dress di­rec­to­ries, and of­fi­cial ge­o­graph­i­cal lex­i­cons. But although the poi­son­ing risk re­mains dan­ger­ously high to­day, there are three fi­nal in­hab­i­tants who do not want to depart from their home: For the three for­mer min­ers, death and Wittenoom have long been in­sep­a­ra­ble.

22.2353° S 118.3358° E

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