According to the boy's father, the out-of-state lab that reported the test result expressed surprise: "We never see manganese levels so high. Is there something going on with your water?"
The young boy lives on Morrison Street in Madison; his parents asked that names not be used to protect his privacy. The test result, a copy of which was provided to Isthmus, shows a manganese level of 1.17 parts per million, against a normal range of .2 to .6 and an ideal of .4.
Morrison Street is served by city well No. 3, which until last week was under a health advisory for manganese. The city now deems its drinking water safe for all. The boy's parents are not so sure.
"[My son's test] is double the safe level and three times the ideal level," says his mother, who wonders if these high levels might help explain her son's struggles with memory and attention span. "I'm not saying the manganese is definitely the problem, but it may be a piece to the puzzle."
This is the fifth case reported by the media of a Madisonian testing high for manganese; all lived in areas served by wells included in the manganese advisory. Two of these cases were reported in Isthmus last week ("Enough to Make You Sick?"). The boy's mother saw the story the day after getting the test result. It made her angry.
"It sounds to me like they're minimizing the problem," she says of city officials. "They've got to know more people are testing with high levels."
The city is now testing the water from the Morrison Street residence, but the family has already switched to bottled water for drinking and cooking. It's also getting hair tests for every member of the household. (Some studies question the reliability of hair tests for manganese, since levels could be affected by exposure to external sources, like manganese in water during showers.)
This week, the boy's mother spoke with Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of public health for Madison and Dane County. She says Schlenker asked her about other possible sources of manganese, like dietary supplements; she dismisses this, since the boy takes no supplements except fish oil. She says Schlenker asked that she bring the fish oil in for testing.
Schlenker confirms speaking to a family member reporting a high manganese level, but says he did not ask for any additional information: "We just decided to stay in touch." Asked if this is indeed the fifth known case, he replies, "I can't really comment because I'm not keeping a tally of this."
What to do
According to Lynda Knobeloch, a toxicologist with the state Division of Health, "All metal poisonings are reportable conditions under Wisconsin statutes, but they are rarely reported due to a lack of awareness among health care providers."
Knobeloch would like to hear from anyone who has tested high for manganese "so that we can look into the sources of exposure and do some follow-up to be sure the levels return to normal." Her number is 266-0923.
People who want to get tested to see if they have elevated levels of manganese or other metals are advised to contact their personal physician.