MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon residents are being asked to take part in a study that will benefit not only the citizens of Marietta, but will also advance medical science.
The joint health study will look at the effects of low-dose manganese on adults. Mount Vernon residents will serve as the control group to Marietta, where levels of manganese are higher than accepted levels.
“This will be the first environmental study of adult exposure to manganese in the United States,” said Rosemarie Bowler, Ph.D., lead researcher for the study. “We don’t know what low-dose exposure does to the body.
“What’s unusual about manganese,” she continued, “is that it is an essential element for the body. If you do not have enough, you could have dysfunction. However, when it gets too high, you can experience symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease — tremors, trouble walking, the shakes.”
Mark Johnson, Ph.D., of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said former Sen. Mike DeWine asked the federal agency several years ago to investigate the air quality in the city of Marietta. Some Marietta residents were complaining of symptoms, he said, but no scientific study determined if exposure to manganese caused the symptoms. Results of air monitoring in and around Marietta between April 2007 and March 2008 show levels of manganese exceed health guidelines.
Results also show the manganese concentrations are highest downwind from Eramet Marietta Inc., a maker of super alloys and specialty steel, located five miles outside Marietta at the site of a former Union Carbide plant.
“We need to look at the health impact to the community of exposure to manganese,” said Johnson. “It’s important that we have a comparison ... to Marietta so we can tell what the effects of exposure will be.”
Mount Vernon was chosen as the comparison because of the almost exact match in demographics, including population, age and education level, and because Mount Vernon residents do not live near a source of air-borne manganese.
Bowler, who has over 10 years of research on manganese, said letters went out to 425 Mount Vernon residents asking them to participate in the study. The goal is to recruit 100 healthy adults to undergo testing. Testing will include a neurological review — assessing speech, memory, learning, visual/spatial skills, and dexterity and strength — as well as a general medical evaluation and medical history. Participants will also provide a blood sample. Testing will take about three hours.
One of the criteria for participating is the resident must be between the ages of 35 and 55.
“It is narrow because of the issue of Parkinson’s,” said Bowler. “We wanted to not have Parkinson’s interfere with the results.”
Bowler said her research team, which includes members from Belgium and Canada, will conduct the study Aug. 20 through 24. Results will be reported as a group. However, she said, participants will receive the results of their individual health evaluation.
“It takes quite a while to score these tests, do the data entry and analyze the results,” she said. “Our statisticians will be working on that for at least a year.”
Bowler said city officials will receive initial preliminary results, and she hopes to complete the study in two years.
Residents were selected by looking at property tax records and water department records, and choosing every fourth or fifth name.
Bowler is professor emerita at San Francisco State University and an expert in the effects of manganese on the brain and behavior. ATSDR is a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, charged with evaluating the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.