'Australia's Chernobyl': Instagram users warned over outback 'ghost town'

·3-min read

Instagram users are being warned not to visit an abandoned asbestos-filled West Australian outback town to take photos or selfies.

Wittenoom is the largest contaminated site in the Southern Hemisphere with about 50,000 hectares of asbestos-riddled land so dangerous that the Western Australian government delisted the town from official maps in 2006.

The former town located 1420km northeast of Perth in the Pilbara’s Hamersley Ranges is surrounded by danger signs warning people not to enter. There is no power and the roads have been torn up.

Pictured left is a woman posing in the West Australian town of Wittenoom. Right is a danger sign at the town.
Instagrammers have been warned not to head to abandoned Wittenoom to take photos or selfies. Pictured right is a danger sign in the town. Source: Instagram

However, if you search the Wittenoom hashtag on Instagram, your feed will be flooded with images of people taking selfies near danger signs and at the entrance to the former blue asbestos mine. Some spend the night camping and hiking, while others go for a swim in Wittenoom Gorge.

Australian businessman Lang Hancock’s Wittenoom mine was shut down in 1966 as the health threat of asbestos became clearer, with blue asbestos identified as the most dangerous.

But influencers seem to delight dabbling in the risk using hashtags like “blue asbestos” and “ghost town” in their photos.

It’s estimated of the 13,000 mine workers and families who lived in the town, more than 2,000 have died of asbestos-related illnesses, many from mesothelioma – an aggressive and fast-acting form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs.

Instagram user describes town as ‘Australia's Chernobyl’

One traveller stayed overnight with one of the three residents who remain in the town and claimed the heath threat was long gone.

“The area is safe now, but the fear of the asbestos mine looms over this area and the Australian government is persistent in wishing to delete the existence of this town,” Instagram user Steven Alyian wrote in August.

An abandoned petrol station and a traveller posing with a cup of coffee in Wittenoom.
Only three residents remain in asbestos riddled Wittenoom, which some people claim is now 'safe'. Source: Instagram

Even with signs warning travellers to stay in their cars if they have to pass through the town, many often spend the night camping with followers keen to explore the area.

“I can’t wait to go, It looks beautiful,” one person wrote.

“It’s stunning,” another added.

One Instagram user described Wittenoom as “Australia's Chernobyl”, while posting a photo of the danger warning sign in the town.

Visitors are ‘playing Russian roulette’ with their lives

Despite claims by some tourists the area is safe, the National Centre of Asbestos Related Diseases advisory chair Melita Markey told The West Australian this wasn’t the case.

“There’s a lot of asbestos in Wittenoom and it has very strong winds blowing around you,” she said.

Two separate Instagram photos show men posing in Wittenoom.
Tourists are warned not to leave their cars in the town (left) while another Instagrammer holds riebeckite (right), the fibrous form is recognised as one of the types of asbestos mined in Wittenoom. Source: Instagram

Ms Markey took aim at those posting for photos in the town and in particular some campers who took their children with them on an overnight stay.

“You're playing Russian roulette with your life and your children's lives,” Ms Markey said.

“It's a level of determination, isn't it? To take the risk, or to believe that they're invincible — and sadly, we know that's not the case.”

Ms Markey cautioned inhaling one particle is all it takes to develop mesothelioma.

“The consequences aren't worth it... we don't have the investment in medical research to even offer you any hope,” she said.

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