Monday, September 20, 2010

Turns Out Rust Colored Water Probably Not So Good After All

This always happens when I can't sleep. I lie in bed checking my CrackBerry and come across something that angers or excites me leaving me even more awake. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but alas, I am just as human as you are.

This time the culprit was a brand spanking new study showing that exposure to the substance manganese found in groundwater is linked, for perhaps the first time, to IQ deficits in children. "Yawn." I know. Big deal considering exposure to the current sociopolitical climate is making all of us more stupid by the day.

Then I suffered (because insomnia IS suffering) the thought that woke me up. Even though I can't find it anywhere online, I swear I saw a recent news story about rust colored water in St. Tammany Parish homes. I'm almost certain a spokesman in that story said it was probably because of the high levels of manganese in the area and that while the water looks weird, the manganese is harmless. An online document from the St. Tammany Parish government website calls manganese "a nontoxic substance" (see Why Is My Water Discolored on page 2).

Maybe not:
Lead author Maryse Bouchard explains, "We found significant deficits in the intelligence quotient (IQ) of children exposed to higher concentration of manganese in drinking water. Yet, manganese concentrations were well below current guidelines."

The analyses of the association between manganese in tap water and children's IQ took into account various factors such as family income, maternal intelligence, maternal education, and the presence of other metals in the water. For co-author Donna Mergler, "This is a very marked effect; few environmental contaminants have shown such a strong correlation with intellectual ability." The authors state that the amount of manganese present in food showed no relationship to the children's IQ.

The difference in IQ was 6 points. To put that in some perspective, the current black-white IQ gap for 12-year-olds in America is approximately 9.5 points. That realization then led me to ponder the strength of the environment-over-genetics argument for the gap in racial achievement in the U.S., and you better believe that thought REALLY had me wide awake! That's going to have to be a whole other series of posts for another day.

There was definitely no sleeping after that because now I had to get up out of bed the children. So I just emailed Tammany Utilities to alert them to this. In their defense, as indicated in the research article, while airborne exposure to manganese is harmful to adults and children, manganese in the levels present in groundwater in North America has heretofore not been widely known to be a neurotoxin. Lots of other public water systems need to take heed too.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: the next time some snot-nosed, smart aleck kid mouths off at you, smile and offer them a nice glass of water.

Filtered water, people! What kind of an animal do you think I am?!