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Anti-asbestos Campaign, Australia


People in Australia and the UK have experienced the highest deaths from asbestos-related diseases. Around 2500 Australians are currently diagnosed each year and 5000 have died. Estimates of fatalities from such causes, 1980-2050, range from 30,000-45,000.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Anti-asbestos Campaign, Australia
State or province:Western Australia
Location of conflict:Wittenoom
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Tailings from mines
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Asbestos
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Between 1948 and 1966, the CSR mines at Wittenoom produced 161 000 tons of crocidolite fibre.

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1980
Company names or state enterprises:CSR Wittenoom from Australia
Jamies Hardie - forced to establish a Medical Research and Compensation Foundation
Relevant government actors:Western Australian and Australian governments
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Many environmental organisations supported the campaign which finally formed round the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ASDA) see, The Slater and Gordon law firm partnered ADSA in court cases
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Genetic contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsUse in building materials and other products means widespread contamination and exposure to humans and uncertain impacts on non-human nature.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsAsbestos mining and milling was often conducted under unsafe and uncomfortable working conditions irrespective of the lethal nature of the material involved.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impactsAll Australians have been and still are exposed to asbestos in the form of environmental dust from degrading building materials etc. It would be almost impossible to estimate the economic and social impacts of the widespread use of asbestos for so many decades after WWII.
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:Alternative building and brake-lining products have been developed to replace asbestos.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:People and those who care about them cannot be compensated with money for experiencing a serious illness and death as a result of asbestos exposure. It took decades of environmental campaigning and court cases to pressure James Hardie, a key Australian producer of asbestos building materials, to establish a Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. In 1985, the Slater and Gordon law firm won its first successful claim on behalf of Pilmer and the same firm continues to represent victims, working with the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA). Famous campaign leader Berbie Banton had worked for James Hardie and developed asbestosis and pleural disease, dying late 2007 (aged 61) from peritoneal mesothelioma, after being made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005 for his ardent advocacy, awareness-raising and campaigning.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

See the variety of legislation brought in summarised here:
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

NHMRC (2012)
[click to view]

Slater and Gordon (2012)
[click to view]

All sites accessed 10 July 2012

Hills, Ben (1989) Blue Murder: Two thousand doomed to die: the shocking truth about Wittenooms deadly dust. South Melbourne: Sun Books.

There are many more publications and documentaries.

ADSA (2012) Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia
[click to view]

Barry, Paul (1988) Blue Death 23 May 1988, ABC 4 Corners award winning doco
[click to view]

Western Australian government
[click to view]

[click to view]

[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

May 1988, ABC 4 Corners award winning doco
[click to view]

Other comments:0
Meta information
Contributor:Anitra Nelson — [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:90
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