News Feature | March 13, 2019

High Manganese Levels Lead To Drinking Water Ban In Iowa

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Residents of an Iowa town were told not to drink their tap water this month when dangerous levels of manganese were found in the supply. And most concerning may be the fact that nobody seems sure how long the contamination has been affecting residents.

“Alex Murphy, [an Iowa Department of Natural Resources] DNR spokesman, said yearly water quality tests do not look for manganese, which naturally exists in the air, soil, water and many foods,” the Des Moines Register reported. “The DNR found out about the manganese levels after a resident raised concerns to news media.”

When the water was tested, it was found to contain 1.4 milligrams per liter of manganese. The U.S. EPA secondary drinking water guideline recommends 0.05 milligrams per liter, its health advisory for adults is 1 milligram per liter, and its recommendation for babies is that they not consume water with more than 0.3 milligrams per liter. Water with more than 0.05 milligrams per liter of manganese can taste strange, per the Register.

“Ingestion of too much manganese in water over an extended number of years can affect adults’ nervous systems, such as causing slow and clumsy movements,” according to the Register. “The learning and behavior of children exposed to too much manganese can be affected and infants given too much manganese are especially at-risk of health problems.”

As of the time of this writing, it isn’t clear how the elevated levels of manganese found their way into the water. The local water system doesn’t currently treat for the compound and even though plans for a new treatment plant in the area have been approved, it will be months or years before any new treatment facility is established. In the meantime, local residents have been supplied with bottled water.

Despite the concern, some local officials don’t appear overly worried. State toxicologist Stuart Schmitz, for instance, isn’t alarmed about any potential neurological health impacts resulting from the drinking water.

“We would be more concerned about the exposure if you’re inhaling manganese, as in exposure to welding fumes in an occupational exposure,” Schmitz told Radio Iowa. “That’s where the serious health impacts are more seen.”

To read more about how water systems protect local tap water, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.