State Officials Told Pierre Officials To Advise Public About High Manganese Level In City’s Water

KELO Pierre Capitol Day

Pierre officials advised Wednesday the city’s drinking water exceeds federal recommended levels for manganese and shouldn’t be consumed by anyone unless the water was further treated.

Pierre gets raw water from wells and doesn’t treat for manganese. The city’s new treatment plant is planned for completion in 2021 and would draw raw water from the Missouri River.

The river’s water is considered to be safely below the federal levels for manganese. City officials have known about high manganese in Pierre water since at least 1994.

Mayor Steve Harding said Wednesday many residences have in-home systems that could mitigate the high level of manganese until the new plant comes on line.

Homes without water softeners or reverse osmosis systems should use purchased water to drink or cook, officials said.

Harding said people concerned about manganese should have their home systems checked at the taps most frequently used.

City officials also said the state Department of Health has $14 kits available for people to send their water to the state lab in Pierre for testing.

City officials issued to reporters a two-page announcement, a three-page supporting document and four pages of frequently-asked questions and answers.

The information strongly warned that untreated tap water shouldn’t be given in any form to infants less than six months old.

The information also warned against boiling untreated tap water because evaporation would concentrate the manganese.

The documents further said adults drinking water with high levels of manganese for many years may experience effects to their central nervous systems and experience behavioral changes and other symptoms, such as slow and clumsy movements.

They also said some studies have shown that too much manganese during childhood might have effects on the brain and affect learning and behavior. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has been testing water in preparation for proposing a national rule on maximum levels of manganese for adults, children and infants.

Pierre averaged 2.5 milligrams per liter in the most recent round of EPA tests.

Pierre’s level exceeded EPA’s short-term health advisory levels of one milligram per liter for adults and children, and three-tenths of one milligram per liter for infants up to six months.

Pierre was the only community in South Dakota that issued the health advisory Wednesday.

But state officials were checking data with other communities this week, according to Mark Mayer.

Mayer is administrator for the drinking water program in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He spoke by telephone to local news reporters at a special briefing that had been called by city officials.

Mayer said Governor Kristi Noem recommended Pierre officials issue the advisory. No federal officials attended the announcement.

The governor was recently made aware of the manganese assessment. She supports the transparent approach being taken by the city of Pierre and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to keep people informed, Noem press secretary Kristin Wileman said Wednesday afternoon.

Public and private schools in Pierre were notified and began taking steps to protect their students, according to Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state department. 

In some cases the school softens all of their water. In others, bottled water is being supplied, treatment systems are being installed and untreated sources are being marked, Walsh said. He suggested people directly contact schools for more details.

Walsh said people should check with owners of drinking fountains on what steps they were taking.

KELOLAND reporters will be following further developments.

Mayer said the state department sent an advisory letter to the city Tuesday. That led to the news conference Wednesday.

This is an advisory. It’s a precautionary measure to protect public health, he said.

Mayer said Pierre’s manganese level had consistently been in the 2.0 to 2.5 range.

If you brush your teeth, we would just ask that you not swallow the water, Mayer said.

City engineer Brad Palmer said people drink one percent of the 5.5 million gallons that goes through the city system per day. He said it was preferable that people rely on their home systems than the city treating water from the wells.

Mayer said the advisory didn’t affect Fort Pierre, Mni Wiconi, Mid-Dakota or other rural systems that take water from the Missouri River.

He said the state department agreed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendation to notify Pierre now rather than wait for an annual publication. 

We’re kind of following their guidance and now is when we agreed we should move forward, Mayer said.

Asked if the governor directed it, Mayer said she was definitely in favor of being transparent. That was one of her pillars of protections. We are following her recommendations, as well as EPA’s, to get this advisory out.

Mayer said EPA in December told the state department in a memo to alert the systems to get the information out sooner than the consumer confidence reports that come out in summer.

They (EPA) weren’t requiring we get this out. They were recommending that we get it out. We agreed we should get this out as a precautionary measure, he said.

Mayor Harding said the city wanted people to have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

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