2 Historic Asbestos Disasters

In 2017, most people are well versed in the dangers of asbestos, but few people are aware of some of the larger scale asbestos disasters which have occurred because of ignorance, error, or negligence. This week we look at two asbestos tragedies which still claim victims to this day.

The Wittenoom Tragedy

Today the town of Wittenoom in Western Australia is a ghost town which recorded a population of 3 in 2016 but in the 1950s, it was the Pilbara’s largest town. Blue asbestos was first identified in the area in 1917 and by the 1930s major mining operations were in place which were all taken over by CSR (the sugar company) in 1948. Evidence suggests that CSR was aware of the dangers that asbestos dust presented to both workers and the wider community but did very little to protect those vulnerable and in fact may even have increased the levels of exposure through practices such as:

  • Accommodating the mine workers in tents just a kilometre away from the processing mill
  • Transporting the processed asbestos fibres to Port Samson in open trucks.
  • Poorly ventilated working conditions in the mine and mill with asbestos particles visible in the air and so numerous that they reduced visibility
  • Employees given no protective wear besides a few respirators which were largely ‘for show’

The mine closed in 1966 due to a lack of profitability and growing health concerns. By that time, it was estimated that over the lifespan of the mining operations, an estimated 20,000 men, women and children living and working in the township had been exposed. The first mesothelioma case in Australia was diagnosed in Wittenoom in 1962 and to date, over 2,000 former residents and workers of Wittenoom have died from asbestos related diseases.



The tragic events of 9/11 were horrific but something that wasn’t taken into consideration in the immediate chaotic aftermath of the attacks was the toxic dust emanating from the building rubble. When the Twin Towers were constructed in the early 1970s, builders used 400 tons of asbestos for insulation, fireproofing, and drywall. When the towers collapsed in 2001, it’s estimated that 2,000 tons of asbestos fibres were released into the air and 410,000 people were exposed including first responders, residents in the area, and clean-up workers. In the 16 years since 9/11 55 people have died from lung and other asbestos related cancers, which is a high amount considering it usually takes between 20-30 years for serious lung conditions to develop after asbestos exposure.


Alpha Environmental offer professional asbestos testing services to Melbourne based businesses, local government, and homeowners. To learn more about our capabilities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 1300 039 181.