Manganese in North Carolina Well Water Can Pose Risks to Newborns

Aggregated data about metals found in well water in North Carolina indicate disturbing connections between well water and birth defects. Newborns in some parts of the state are more likely to have heart defects if their mothers drink water from manganese-rich wells. Since well water is not filtered like municipal treated water, it’s much more vulnerable to contaminants and other dangerous microorganisms.


Mapping the Data


UNC-Chapel Hill and state researchers found a relationship between manganese-rich wells and birth defects by analyzing data of state childbirth records with drinking water well data. Recently, the attention of health researchers has been on heavy metals expressly for their impacts on unborn babies. UNC-Chapel Hill professor Rebecca Fry and her colleagues found that when cadmium accumulates in the blood of the mother, it has potentially harmful effects on the health of the unborn baby. Implicating metal as a health problem is not a new theory. However, Fry indicates that using data-rich locations to focus findings is a novel concept. Her expertise covers the overarching health impacts of heavy metals on newborns.

Researchers were able to analyze data collected from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Birth Defects Monitoring Program of approximately 20,000 babies born throughout the state with birth defects. They considered about 668,000 born without defects for control purposes. All of the birth mothers lived in counties where the water quality varies significantly.

The Need for Geocoding


The researchers relied on a technique called geocoding, which allows complex varieties of data to be plotted on maps to estimate the water that the mothers consumed. The researchers mapped out the varying qualities of the water across the state. They then combined this water data with the locations of the homes of the pregnant mothers to predict what heavy metals were entering their bodies and potentially the bodies of their unborn children. This method allowed researchers to answer some fundamental questions:

Ferro Manganese

  • Where in the state is well water problematic? Concentration of manganese is profound in many North Carolina wells, particularly in the central counties situated above the Carolina slate belt. Nearly 20 percent of private water wells tested above the suggested limit of the EPA for harmful metals.


  • Is manganese causing harm? Infants have a higher chance of being born with heart defects when their mothers drink the manganese-rich water. Although manganese makes poison, the body needs a minute amount to function properly. However, excessive amounts are dangerous.


  • Are birth defects related to well water high in manganese? Since the early 1800s, researchers identified that manganese causes neurological disorders in humans with exposure to high doses. The effects can imitate Parkinson’s disease and cause problems with neurological development in children.


What Well Water Users Can Do


Here are three simple recommendations to follow if you use well water:


  1. Test your well water. Until 2008, the state government did not require residents to test well water.


  1. Contact your county health department. Federal and state regulations do not cover the quality of well water, which offers tests of private water wells, including those for manganese.


  1. Sample your well water annually. Collect water samples from any newly drilled wells and contact DHHS. They provide a list of contaminants, possible remedies and any potential health risks associated with consuming the water.


Article Submitted By Community Writer

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