When NYC was the most dangerous place

Australia's toxic ghost town is a tourist magnet

From TRAVELBOOK | March 30, 2021, 12:25 p.m.

The Australian Wittenoom is one of the deadliest places in the world - and at the same time an absolute tourist magnet. Travelers risk their lives here again and again for a photo. The story of a tragedy - and the “stupidity” of the tourists.

Would you visit a city where just breathing the air can be deadly? A place where there is evidence that around 2000 people died? And where are countless quantities of a highly toxic substance still stored today? Wittenoom in Western Australia is just that, about 1,100 kilometers north of Perth as the crow flies. Despite the danger to life and limb, many tourists seem to be fascinated by today's ghost town, as photos and videos on the web show.

2000 deaths

The Australian government expressly warns against a visit there. According to the "BBC", politicians in connection with Wittenoom speak of the "greatest safety and health tragedy in Australia." Wittenoom is even considered to be the most poisoned place in the entire southern hemisphere. The reason: up to 1966, asbestos was mined here for almost 30 years. Celebrated at the time as a kind of miracle cure in the construction industry due to its properties, around 7,000 workers mined the coveted substance, according to the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia.

The deadly problem: In processed form, asbestos cannot be toxic. As a raw material, as it was extracted in the two mines of Wittenoom, however, it is life-threatening. However, although doctors warned against handling the material and the potentially fatal consequences as early as 1900, according to "Deutschlandfunk", the Wittenoom mines were not closed until 1966. In fact, the use of asbestos in building materials wasn't officially banned until 1980. Trade in products containing asbestos was legal until 2004. Peter Tighe is Managing Director of the Asbestos Safety and Removal Agency of the Australian Government. According to his estimates, up to two million houses in Australia could contain asbestos, reports "Deutschlandfunk". The broadcaster also reports that by the end of 2019, around 50,000 Australians will have incurable diseases that can be traced back to asbestos. The health consequences of exposure to asbestos can even appear decades later. According to "Deutschlandfunk", around 4,000 people die each year in Australia from asbestos-related diseases - more than three times as many as from car accidents.

Health versus fame on the web

In the years following the closure of the Wittenoom mines, the once 20,000 inhabitants were slowly relocated, but people still lived here in 2019 and the government is now trying to persuade them to move with compensation payments. That they stayed that long at all seems incomprehensible, because 2000 workers from Wittenoom suffered the consequences of their handling of asbestos, writes the medical organization "Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia". In 2006, the once thriving city was struck off the Australian maps, taken off the grid and officially classified as a contaminated place due to the high level of danger it poses.

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The government warns that exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, a rare tumor, and other types of cancer. Nevertheless, there are always travelers who visit Wittenoom and share their photos on social networks. The hashtag #Wittenoom currently has more than 1,127 entries on Instagram (as of March 30, 2021), including pictures showing young, happy people who are putting themselves in danger despite official warnings from the government.

One user says: “Spontaneous pictures are somehow the best pictures.” Another writes: “What could be more romantic than proposing in an abandoned mine? I look forward to endless adventures with her. ”Hopefully these two and the other holidaymakers who visit Wittenoom will not have to pay for their adventure with their health or even their lives.

"Even a single fiber can be fatal"

The local politician Ben Wyatt told the "NZ Herald" about this tourism boom that when the mines were closed in 1966 there were still three million tons of asbestos around Wittenoom. “Even a single fiber can be fatal. The warning signs are not hanging for decoration or to add to your Instagram collection. I cannot stress enough how stupid it is to go to Wittenoom. There are so many places in Western Australia that do not pose any fatal threats. "

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