Will Minnesota Lose Protection from Manganese Pollution in Drinking Water?

This may be hard to understand, but just as the pressure builds to permit sulfide mining and processing, the Minnesota Health Department is proposing to repeal the Health Risk Limits that protect Minnesota drinking water from overly high levels of manganese contamination.

A little background here. Health Risk Limits are the Rules required under Minnesota law to protect drinking water. If a source of industrial pollution will exceed those Limits, the proper practice is to require pollution controls or deny the permit.

Enter sulfide mining and processing, perhaps the greatest threat to surface and groundwater that Minnesota has ever faced. Sulfide mining causes acid mine drainage that affects aquatic systems and increases mercury in fish. Sulfide mines and tailings basins  also leach metals into water that are dangerous to human health as well as to the ecosystem. Among the metals leached by sulfide mining and processing is manganese.

Over-exposure to manganese is known to affect the nervous system, causing Parkinson’s like symptoms and impairing learning in children. Existing mine tailings and the proposed PolyMet open pit sulfide mine leach and seep manganese far above Minnesota’s current Health Risk Limits. In this context, it is striking that the Minnesota Department of Health is attempting to repeal the manganese Health Risk Limit. There would then be no Minnesota Rule preventing high levels of manganese in drinking water.

There has been no public attention to the Health Department’s proposal to repeal the manganese standard. The official last day of comments is November 17, 2010 and the address to whom to send comments is Nitika.Moibi@state.mn.us.

Here are the key points from a public health perspective:

• The Health Department should not repeal the manganese Health Risk Limit;

• Manganese is dangerous to human health, causing impacts to the nervous system;

• Repealing the Health Risk Limit will eliminate an important Rule protecting Minnesota citizens from environmental pollution;

• There is a real and present danger of manganese toxicity in drinking water resulting from sulfide mining and processing;

• The Health Department should be protecting Minnesotans from industrial pollution, not eliminating standards that would require pollution to be controlled.

Detailed Comments submitted on behalf of WaterLegacy explain the need to preserve Minnesota’s Health Risk Limit for manganese. This Limit is important to protect human health from industrial pollution related to sulfide mining and processing. It is also important to preserve the integrity of Minnesota’s regulatory process.

Will polluters comply with standards or will legal limits simply be repealed when they seem to get in the way?

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