Asbestos mining, a practice that was once the lifeblood and often the sole existence of many towns, quickly fell out of favor when it was discovered how dangerous this substance really is. Some towns were reduced to ghost towns, others still stubbornly cling to life, while a few invested millions in cleaning up the toxic mess left behind. This article highlights some of the towns that were severely impacted by this deadly mineral.
1. New Idria, California
New Idria was actually named after the Mercury Mine in the area and became a ghost town after the mine closed in 1972. The region was also known for asbestos mining and is still hazardous due to the asbestos-rich debris shed by the rock formations in the area.
2.Msauli, South Africa
Tucked away in the South African province of Mpumalanga, near the Swaziland border, lies the mining village of Msauli. The last Chrysotile asbestos mine in South Africa was located in the vicinity, but closed in 2002. This lead to high unemployment and people vacating the area, turning it into a ghost town. Former facilities, such as a school, tennis courts, a children’s playground with colorful merry-go-round and skate park are reminders of a bygone era of life and laughter, but nature is slowly reclaiming the place.
Asbestos mining was such an important part of the history of Chrysotile that the town was even named after the type of asbestos mined in the area. The mine also supplied asbestos for the construction of the Hoover dam, but these days it is pretty much a ghost town and not many of the original buildings are intact.
Wittenoom is one of the most famous examples of the effects asbestos had on mining towns. It was one of the largest towns in the area after the mining of blue asbestos began, but was shut down in the 1960s due to health concerns. Wittenoom was declared a contaminated site and officially degazetted.
The town of Bulembu is set in a remote part of the picturesque hills of Swaziland. Inhabitants operated a chrysotile mine since 1939, but the mine went bankrupt in 1991. The mine was subsequently purchased by HVL Asbestos and ran until 2001 when it went into liquidation. When the more than 10,000 residents left in search of work elsewhere, Bulembu became a ghost town almost overnight. It was later purchased by a nonprofit Christian organization. Their plan is to turn the deserted town into a haven for Swazi orphans.
With a name like Asbestos, it is no surprise that this Canadian town was hit hard when mining was halted. The town is located right next to Jeffrey mine, which was the world’s largest asbestos mine until operations were shut down in 2011. While not yet a ghost town, the population is shrinking as its younger generations are seeking prospects elsewhere.
7.Mule Hoof Bend
Located high above the Salt River Canyon lies what is left of the former asbestos mining town, Mule Hoof Bend. The buildings left standing are all made out of asbestos. Among the ruins, there is also a “haunted” house where the owner of the nearby mine was allegedly murdered by his wife.
8.Cassiar, British Columbia
For forty years Cassiar in British Columbia, Canada, was a company-owned asbestos mining town. However, in 1992 the mine that was sustaining the town was forced to close down. At its peak the town had a population of 1,500 and two schools, a hospital, theater and two churches. After the mine closed most of the buildings were bull-dozed and burned down, allowing nature to reclaim this ghost town.
9.Clinton Creek, Yukon
Clinton Creek was another mining town owned and operated by the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation. It operated from 1966 to 1978 and had a population of about 500. The town not only had a dial telephone service, but as one of the only six communities in Yukon with access to television service before 1973. After the mine closed the buildings were auctioned off and Clinton Creek became a ghost town as residents moved to other mining towns.
10.Westerberg, South Africa
Westerberg, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, is another mining town that didn’t survive the decline of the asbestos industry. The nearby mountain range is also called the Asbestos Mountains because of the abundance of asbestos it contains.
11. Baryulgil, New South Wales
The small town of Baryulgil, located in Australia, was a center of asbestos mining from 1942 until 1979. Although it was never a big town, its Aboriginal population dwindled to just over 200 since the closure of the mine. A large portion of the residents also suffer from the effects of asbestos exposure.
12.Belvidere Mountain, United States
The asbestos mine on Belvidere Mountain was active from 1936 until 1993 when it was shut down due to the health hazard posed by the mineral. Miners worked around the clock to extract the asbestos and at night the facility was lit up like a city. However, after the closure the place was abandoned and thanks to the huge mounds of asbestos tailings left behind still poses a health hazard to the environment.
Ambler was once a town that thrived around the business of asbestos manufacturing. Factories were set up in the late 1800s and waste started to pile up around town. Although the factory closed in 1962 the effects of the asbestos were felt throughout the town years later. Large scale cleanup operations had to be conducted to get rid of the waste which, was estimated to be in excess of 1.5 million cubic yards.
The mining village of Mashava in Zimbabwe as heavily dependent on the work provided by the Gaths asbestos mine in the area. Although the mine used to employ around 1,500 people, the suspension of production saw workers heading elsewhere for income. Only a few employees stayed behind at the mine for maintenance, but some were unpaid for years.
15.Penge, South Africa
The town of Penge in the Limpopo Province of South Africa was once a bustling place and home to one of the largest asbestos mines in the country. The mine even employed children, but was eventually forced to close down in 1979 for obvious health concerns. While there are still people living in Penge it is in a run-down state.
Libby escaped the fate of becoming a ghost town after the closure of the nearby vermiculite mine that was operating for more than 70 years. However, dust from the mine was spread all over town and caused serious health issues for the residents. Things were so bad that the EPA has spent more than $500 million in an effort to clean up the town.
17. Asbest, Russia
Unlike the cleanup or abandonment of most towns that were centered around the mining of asbestos, there is one in Russia that still clings to this dangerous practice. The town is named Asbest, which literally means asbestos in Russian and is home to about 70,000 people. Right next to the town is one of the largest asbestos mines in the world and according to residents, when the wind shifts, asbestos dust covers everything.
18.Barraba, New South Wales
The town of Barraba used to have an asbestos mine right on its doorstep. The Woodsreef asbestos mine was operational from 1919 until 1983 when it was completely abandoned. For more than 30 years the site was left derelict, but growing health concerns about its proximity and the mountains of asbestos waste everywhere finally prompted action. The mine was demolished and all buildings were buried within a containment cell on the site.
19.Casale Monferrato, Italy
The town of Casale Monferrato in Italy was the location of the Eternit factory that exposed residents to asbestos while producing cement. After thousands of inhabitants of the city died from illnesses related to breathing in asbestos, trials were held against the management of Eternit. Two former executives of Eternit were sentenced to 16 years in jail and millions in fines after they were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Looking at the modern town of Meredith with its golf courses, restaurants, hiking trails and marinas it is hard to believe that it was home to an asbestos plant and some decrepit old buildings only a few years back. According to old residents, until 1976 the asbestos waste was simply dumped in the town landfill instead of properly disposed. However, the town cleaned up its act, closed and capped the landfill, and went on to become a popular tourist attraction.