Elevated Levels of Manganese in ELA Water

Cal Water is slated to complete a manganese treatment system costing millions on a new well to go online by late summer 2014

By C. J. Salgado, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: September 30, 2013

Elevated Levels of Manganese in ELA Water

Water is a funny thing to me. I both hate and love it. For most, though, it's blas?®. At least I surmise it must be after attending a recent community meeting by Cal Water Service Company (Cal Water) on water quality in East L.A. Trouble is, nobody showed up but me!

You see, elevated levels of manganese (higher than the "secondary maximum contaminant level" which is meant to address only aesthetic effects) have been present in some of the water servicing East L.A for decades. Manganese is a naturally occurring metal that can get into the groundwater from the soil surrounding wells, which then feeds into our drinking water.

Our bodies need a little bit of it as an essential nutrient. However, at high levels, it can damage the brain, i.e., it is a neuro-toxin. Question now being debated in the scientific and regulatory worlds is what should be considered too much of it? Growing evidence suggest it may be harmful at relatively low levels over chronic exposures, such as that found in some drinking water. Understandably, I wondered why a community meeting on water quality had no community presence.

Growing up, I can remember three brutal occasions when I nearly drowned in water. One, I was trying to show off in front of a cute girl at the public pool in East L.A. by jumping into the deep end of the pool. Two, I got caught in a rip tide in Santa Monica. Three, I was being battered by waves onto jagged rocks in the North Shore of Oahu. What saved me?

Well, I saved myself on one of those occasions, calling upon my last bit of strength. Then God surely saved me on another because I prayed so hard, as I surrendered to nature. Finally, it was the hand of an angel lifeguard that broke the water surface just in time to grab me as I went under while I fixated on the shimmering sunlight above me.

So, as you can see from my little water stories, I was, admittedly, traumatized by water early on. But most people aren't. Maybe that explains why these local water quality meetings are so poorly attended year after year. I mean, water doesn't typically pull us under or bash us against rocks, right?

Water is so dependably good to us every day of our lives from our morning shower to our nighttime teeth brushing. What's there not to love about water? In fact, people just are so used to opening up their faucets and enjoying it, that it is the most mechanical of presumptions: Our water is safe.

Granted, by and large, our water is safe. Cal Water and regulators take great pains toward that goal. For example, Cal Water is slated to complete a manganese treatment system costing millions on a new well to go online by late summer 2014, hopefully resolving the issue of manganese levels in East L.A. for good.

Still, there is enough uncertainty as to the potential risks for adverse effects from low levels of manganese concentrations in drinking water, particularly to children and other sensitive populations, supported by mounting scientific evidence, to warrant our collective community concern. Since the level of exposure that could cause neurological damage in humans is not known well enough, we should minimize our exposures to manganese to as low as reasonably achievable.

In this respect, I applaud Cal Water for committing to install a manganese treatment system on its new well in East L.A. To a sleeping community, perhaps a splash of water would do some good. But for now, if I must be the lone water watchdog, so be it. Water and I go back a long time

About C. J. Salgado, Contributing Writer:
C.J. Salgado lives and writes in East Los Angeles
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