Government policy for Wittenoom
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In 2002, the Western Australian Government established the Wittenoom Steering Committee, comprising of members from several State Government Departments, to develop a strategy to deal with asbestos contamination in and around Wittenoom and to accelerate the phase down of activities in the former town. The Government position is that exposure to asbestos should be kept as low as possible.
In 2006, the Government endorsed the following recommendations by the Wittenoom Steering Committee as the most appropriate long term solutions for Wittenoom:
- The town of Wittenoom should be closed as soon as possible as determined by the Government.
- All buildings and structures in Wittenoom should be demolished and associated infrastructure removed – to remove any easily visible sign of past habitation.
- All remaining utility services provided by Government should be withdrawn.
- Road access to Wittenoom and Wittenoom Gorge to be reviewed – with a view to realignment, or closure and removal where appropriate.
- Land in the Wittenoom area should be vested with an appropriate body to ensure adequate management is exercised over the area.
- Pending the town’s closure, organisations with regulatory responsibilities should put in place a level of regulation which more appropriately balances their obligations for the health and safety of their staff and contractors with the significant health, safety and legal risks attendant upon their not discharging their regulatory responsibilities to residents of, and visitors to, the township.
- A range of possible engineering solutions to be investigated to mitigate the spread of asbestos tailings contamination in the area. This will be incorporated into a risk management model for exposure to asbestos.
- Future management of the land and its use must take into consideration the health risk management and liability issues and the tourism and indigenous cultural heritage attributes of the area. While it is not practical to eliminate the asbestos contamination in the former town of Wittenoom, a series of mitigation and containment measures will be implemented to reduce the risk of asbestos tailings contaminating surrounding areas.
In 2006, the Wittenoom Steering Committee commissioned geotechnical and engineering consultants GHD and Parsons Brinckerhoff to compile a detailed report into the nature and extent of asbestos contamination in the Wittenoom area. The report found that exposure to asbestos in the Wittenoom area, which has resulted in hundreds of fatalities, continues to present a potential risk to the people that might use the area.
The Department of Health, which has reviewed the Report, has expressed the view that the exposure and risks identified in the report pose an unacceptable public health risk.
It is therefore urged that travellers in the region avoid Wittenoom and to prevent the unnecessary health risks of exposure to asbestos.
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