Researchers at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have conducted a study revealing that tap water in a Massachusetts community frequently surpasses safe levels of manganese, potentially endangering vulnerable groups, particularly children. The findings highlight the urgency for enforceable federal regulations on manganese concentrations in drinking water.
The study focused on a residential area in Holliston, Massachusetts, where tests showed that manganese concentrations occasionally exceeded the maximum safety level advised by state and federal guidelines. Manganese, an unregulated contaminant commonly found in drinking water, lacks defined safe levels, although previous research indicates that excessive exposure can be harmful to children.
Published in the prestigious Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, the study warns that the observed levels of manganese may pose a risk to children and other vulnerable communities who come into contact with the contaminated water.
Manganese is a naturally occurring element found in soil and rock. While it is essential in small amounts, both insufficient and excessive exposure can be detrimental to health. Despite its presence in drinking water across various US communities, manganese is not subject to federal regulation. The guidelines established by the US Environmental Protection Agency only provide recommendations on daily exposure limits for aesthetic purposes (such as color and taste) and overall health and safety. However, these guidelines lack enforceability compared to established primary standards.
Alexa Friedman, the lead author of the study and a former doctoral student at BUSPH, emphasizes the potential harm of excessive manganese levels, stating, “Some level of manganese is needed for health, but growing evidence suggests that excess levels of manganese can harm children’s brains.” She further asserts that the data from the study supports the implementation of legally enforceable primary drinking water standards for manganese to safeguard children’s health.
This groundbreaking study represents one of the first comprehensive examinations of manganese concentrations in drinking water across different locations and over time in the United States.
To conduct the research, Friedman and her team analyzed tap water samples collected between September 2018 and December 2019 in Holliston, Massachusetts. The study was part of a community-initiated pilot project called ACHIEVE (Assessing Children’s Environmental Exposures) prompted by concerns raised by Holliston residents regarding their drinking water quality and the safety of children in the area. The residents had noticed occasional discoloration of tap water, turning it black or brown. Communities relying on shallow aquifers for tap water are particularly susceptible to elevated manganese levels, and Holliston heavily relies on this water source for drinking purposes.
While the average manganese concentrations in Holliston were relatively low, the study demonstrated that levels frequently surpassed current aesthetic and health-based guidelines. Birgit Claus Henn, the senior author of the study and associate professor of environmental health at BUSPH, emphasizes the need for enforceable standards, stating that existing guidelines may serve as helpful benchmarks but fall short of ensuring the safety and compliance of drinking water.
The researchers also compared their community-level manganese samples with publicly available data on statewide manganese levels. The results indicated similar ranges, implying that excessive manganese exposure is not limited to the Holliston community alone.
To gain a better understanding of the health risks associated with manganese exposure in drinking water, Claus Henn and Friedman recommend that policymakers and researchers intensify monitoring efforts, conduct health studies in communities affected by this exposure, and seriously consider implementing enforceable standards.
Friedman advises concerned residents to refer to online resources provided by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regarding manganese levels in drinking water. It is also crucial for residents to be aware that boiling water does not remove manganese, and not all household filters effectively eliminate it. Only filters specifically designed to remove manganese should be used, clearly indicating their capability to do so.
Reference: “Manganese in residential drinking water from a community-initiated case study in Massachusetts” by Alexa Friedman, Elena Boselli, Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger, Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Paige Brochu, Mayah Burgess, Samantha Schildroth, Allegra Denehy, Timothy Downs, Ian Papautsky, and Birgit Claus Henn, Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 10 June 2023, DOI: 10.1038/s41370-023-00563-9.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Manganese contamination
What did the study conducted by Boston University School of Public Health reveal?
The study revealed that tap water in a Massachusetts community frequently exceeded safe levels of manganese, posing a potential risk to children and vulnerable groups. It emphasized the need for enforceable federal standards on manganese levels in drinking water.
Why is manganese a concern in drinking water?
Manganese is an unregulated contaminant often found in drinking water. While it is an essential nutrient in small amounts, excessive exposure to manganese can be harmful, particularly to children. The study suggests that overexposure to manganese may have adverse effects on children’s brains.
Are there currently federal regulations for manganese levels in drinking water?
No, manganese is not federally regulated in drinking water. The guidelines provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency offer recommendations on maximum daily exposure levels for aesthetic purposes and general health and safety. However, these guidelines are not enforceable like established primary standards.
What were the findings of the study regarding manganese levels?
The study found that manganese concentrations in a Massachusetts community’s drinking water frequently exceeded the maximum recommended levels stated in current guidelines. This suggests a potential risk to children and other vulnerable communities exposed to the water.
How was the study conducted?
The researchers collected residential tap water samples from a Holliston, Massachusetts community between September 2018 and December 2019. These samples were analyzed as part of a community-initiated pilot study called ACHIEVE. The study aimed to assess children’s environmental exposures and address concerns raised by residents regarding water quality and the safety of children in the area.
Can manganese be removed from drinking water by boiling or household filters?
No, boiling water does not remove manganese, and many household filters are not effective at eliminating it. Residents concerned about manganese levels in their drinking water should use filters specifically designed to remove manganese, ensuring that the filtration units clearly state this capability.
More about Manganese contamination
- Boston University School of Public Health
- Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology
- US Environmental Protection Agency
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection