To the editor:
In a routine 2019 study, the City of Northfield found elevated levels of manganese in three of its five drinking water wells.1 Four years later, there remains a distinct lack of awareness about this ongoing issue. Northfield’s government and healthcare providers have an unfulfilled duty to actively present residents with current, sufficient, and accessible information about this issue. As a Northfield resident, I assume the water I drink every day is safe until told otherwise.
Our manganese levels are over the Minnesota Department of Health’s safe drinking level for pregnant women and infants under one year old.2 According to the CDC, excessive manganese could harm infant brain development.3 The City’s new, federally-funded plant to remove the mineral from drinking water will not be completed until 2026.4 That’s three more years during which infant caregivers and pregnant women need to be informed.
Northfield Hospital + Clinics, a major Northfield prenatal care provider, passively supplies just one webpage about manganese in Northfield water. On the page, pediatrician Dr. Ben Flannery recommends additional filtration to remove manganese from tap water before mixing it with formula or giving it to infants.5 There is no guidance for pregnant or breastfeeding women, despite evidence that manganese could impact a developing fetus.6 Moreover, simply having this information available online is not enough. I spoke to mothers who received prenatal care and daycare services for their infants in Northfield, and they had never heard manganese was a concern in City water.
Dr. Flannery says current manganese levels present a “highly unlikely risk of learning or behavior problems for infants,” and overreactions or panic about drinking water should be avoided. However, the City and its healthcare providers have an ethical obligation to actively inform their residents and patients of this issue. Any risk to infant brain development should be minimized, no matter how “highly unlikely.”
Active information for Northfield residents means up-to-date, cohesive, digestible information is made easily available and accessible to all expecting mothers and caretakers of infants in the City, including the 13.9% of residents who speak a language other than English at home (according to 2020 Census data).7 Residents should be given information, perhaps through Rice County public health in-home nurse visits, about manganese and how to effectively filter it from their water, if not provided with the filters themselves. Northfield, three years is long enough. Start (sufficiently) informing residents about manganese in their water today.