Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


Manganese is a naturally occurring metal found in the environment. It is present in most foods (especially grains and beans), and our bodies need small amounts of it to function. Manganese is also used in manufacturing, most commonly to improve the strength of steel. Manufacturing use and improper disposal can release manganese into the air, water, and soil. Once in the environment manganese does not break down, so people can be exposed to high levels of manganese by breathing contaminated air, drinking contaminated water, or eating foods grown in contaminated soil.

Exposure to high levels of manganese has devastating effects on the nervous system. This includes movement defects, behavioral changes, psychiatric episodes, and death of brain cells. In the long term, symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease. While little is known about how manganese exposure affects children, a 2011 study found that high levels of manganese in drinking water was associated with intellectual impairment in children ages 6-13.

For over a decade the residents of East Liverpool, Ohio have been exposed to dangerous levels of manganese from the SH Bell manufacturing plant. In 2010, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) conducted air sampling and found that manganese levels were 30 times higher than the concentration US EPA deems safe. The facility was required to reduce manganese emissions, but in 2012, US EPA air sampling at a local elementary school still found dangerous levels of manganese, raising questions about damage to children. Despite this evidence, residents were still unprotected – according to the US EPA a 2016 evaluation “found that the exposures in this community represent a public health hazard.”

The ongoing manganese exposure has had serious effects on residents’ health. In 2013, the local community advocacy group Save Our County (including former CHEJ board member Alonzo Spencer) partnered with researchers at the University of Cincinnati to determine if air exposure to manganese had an effect on the cognitive function of East Liverpool children from ages 7-9. Published in 2018, the study found that increased manganese in children’s hair was associated with a lower IQ. This means that the failure to clean up the source of manganese exposure, even after multiple state and federal agencies have stated that cleanup should happen, is having real consequences on people’s health. The residents of East Liverpool deserve to live and raise children in a community free of toxic chemicals in the air.

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