North-West Minister Ernie Bridge today announced that all Government-owned buildings in the old asbestos mining town of Wittenoon would be demolished in line with Government policy to phase-down activity in the town.
Mr Bridge said the decision was prompted by ongoing concern over the safety of tourists and others visiting Wittenoom.
While a recent report by Mark Nevill MLC recommended the town remain open and be cleaned up and developed as a tourist centre, Mr Bridge said this was not supported by the Health Department, Environmental Protection Authority or Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare.
"Their advice is that a health risk would still exist even if the Shire of Ashburton's clean-up plans were implemented, that there is no safe level of environmental exposure to airborne blue asbestos, and that action should be taken to minimise the number of people exposed," he said.
"The Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare also warns of significant risks to residents and employees if activity is increased, saying the ubiquitous nature of blue asbestos tailings makes it virtually impossible to adequately clean-up the town or the mine."
The demolition order will include the Fortescue Hotel, which officially closed on Saturday, the hospital, and all other buildings acquired by the Government or previously owned by others and no longer required. Tradeable assets would be sold.
Mr Bridge said the Government would contribute $245,000 to a Wittenoom Mine Sites Rehabilitation Project within the Department of Minerals and Energy in 1992-93 to address problems at the three mine sites, and $350,000 in 1992-93 for other work related to phasing-down activity in Wittenoom.
Because of the risk to visitors, action would be taken to regenerate scalded areas on Government-owned land which could be a source of airborne asbestos fibres from wind or vehicle movement.
Asbestos mining at Wittenoom dates back to the early 1940s, with the last operating mine closed in 1966. Moves to phase-down activity in the town have been ongoing for more than a decade.
In 1980, the Government banned connection of water and electricity for new families arriving in Wittenoom. This was followed by closure of the school in 1985, the police station in 1989, and the Wittenoom nursing post in 1990. Despite this, about 40 people still live in the town.