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Airborne manganese levels assessed: Study focusing on Eramet area viewed as a tool for scientists

By Brad Bauer,

n Manganese was the only metal identified which warrants additional evaluation.
n Available data suggest manganese exposures are higher for residents who live closer to the Eramet and Eveready facilities; however, to date there are only two monitoring locations in the area. The existing data are insufficient to adequately characterize the extent of exposure.
n Health outcomes due to manganese inhalation exposure at low levels have not been well documented. However, research suggests that subtle neurological effects may occur with chronic, low-level exposures.
n Very few studies exist that evaluate manganese exposure in sensitive populations and outside of occupational settings.
n Additional ambient air sampling locations should be installed to measure exposure levels in communities impacted by manganese emissions. (This already has occurred.)
n If supported by the results of the sampling conducted in the community, a health study should be conducted to measure impacts of manganese exposure on the health of area residents.
Source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Airborne manganese levels within a five-mile radius of the Eramet Marietta industrial complex register two to 60 times higher than the U.S. EPA health standard, according to an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry document published last month.

The report calls for additional air sampling locations in the immediate area to measure exposure levels in those communities impacted by manganese emissions, which is already under way. It also suggests a study to measure the impact of manganese exposure on the health of area residents, if supported by the second round of monitoring.

Very few studies exist that evaluate manganese exposure in sensitive populations, including children, and outside of occupational settings, according to the agency.

Last year, a pilot study from the University of Cincinnati sought 25 residents living near Eramet for tests to determine how much manganese and other materials were in their blood.

The emission levels reported last month are an average that was taken over an extended period of time, said Melissa English, program director at Ohio Citizen Action.

“What does it mean? We don’t know yet,” English said. “But we are learning more and more about health effects associated with manganese exposure. Some studies show symptoms in adults that are similar to Parkinson’s disease.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs motor skills and speech.

Additionally, English said, manganese exposure can cause developmental problems in children.

According to the report, the most impacted neighborhoods are just north of the Eramet facility, located south of Marietta on Ohio 7. Other areas of concern include residents living in Marietta and Devola and Williamstown, Boaz and Vienna, W.Va. Those areas were exposed to manganese levels in excess of EPA standards.

Eramet officials could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday. In the past, officials with the company have said they have taken steps to reduce emissions.

Dick Wittberg, a biologist and executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg, has studied the effects of manganese exposure for several years. He said they can be very subtle and hard to identify.

“There aren’t people dropping over dead from this,” Wittberg said. “Manganese exposure can rob potential. What if a few points are being shaved off the IQ of our children? All the sudden all of our brilliant children are just smart, and all of our smart kids are just average.... It’s not something you would necessarily notice unless you were looking.”

Wittberg is scheduled to address the U.S. EPA in two weeks to express his concerns about manganese exposure.

“I’m not out to close Eramet. I hate to see plants close. But if they are hurting people, I do believe we need to do something to control emissions and the technology exists to do that,” Wittberg said. “My main goal is just to get someone to come in and tell us if we are being exposed to too much of this. I’m not sure there is a problem, but I am very, very concerned.”

A door-to-door campaign against Eramet Marietta is set to launch this week in area neighborhoods, officials with Ohio Citizen Action said Monday. The group is leading a campaign to encourage residents to send letters asking the specialty metal producer to decrease emissions from the plant.

“We’re going to be going door-to-door hoping to educate the public and encouraging them to generate letters,” English said. “So far we’ve written over 33,000 letters to Eramet on this issue from all over the state. But letters from their own back yard are especially important.”

Marietta resident Joan Dearth said she has been concerned with local air quality for some time.

“I’ve heard people say these plants are cleaning up and doing all of these things, but if so, why are we still getting all of these bad reports?” Dearth asked. “I fear we live in one of the most unhealthy areas anywhere.”

Local air monitoring began in 2001, at the request of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. He charged the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to begin an investigation of local air quality, focusing on emissions from industries located in the area of Eramet.

Over the past several years the agency, in cooperation with other federal, state and local environmental health agencies, has been monitoring and analyzing air samples to determine if a health study could be warranted for this area.

Data obtained from air monitors installed by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on Blue Knob Road and at the Washington County Career Center revealed several compounds in the air, but manganese levels were consistently high.

In February, three new monitoring stations were added in Harmar Village and Boaz and Vienna. The latest air sampling study is set to end in December.





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