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Published on Feb 2, 2017
Manganese is an element with the symbol Mn and atomic number 25. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that as a trace element, consuming a small amount from food or water is needed to stay healthy. However, exposure to elevated levels can cause health concerns.
The ATSDR states that manganese is a naturally occurring metal that is found in many types of rocks. It occurs naturally in most foods (grains, beans and nuts) and may be added to some foods. Manganese is used principally in steel production to improve hardness, stiffness and strength. It may also be used as an additive in gasoline.
Manganese can be released into the air, soil and water from the manufacture, use and disposal of manganese-based products. It cannot break down in the environment and can only change its form or become attached to or separated from particles.
Although the primary way most people are exposed to manganese is through eating food, supplements or consuming water with it, certain occupations, like welding or working in a factory where steel is made, may increase one’s chances of being exposed to elevated levels of it.
According to the ATSDR, the most common health problems in workers exposed to high levels of manganese involve the nervous system. These health effects include behavioral changes and other nervous system effects, which include movements that may become slow and clumsy. This combination of symptoms when sufficiently severe is referred to as “manganism”. Other less severe nervous system effects such as slowed hand movements have been observed in some workers exposed to lower concentrations in the work place. Exposure to high levels of manganese in air can also cause lung irritation and reproductive effects.
There are exposure limits for workers and the ATSDR states that workers exposed to high levels of airborne manganese in certain occupational settings may accumulate manganese dust on their work clothes. Manganese-contaminated work clothing should be removed before getting into one’s car or entering a home to help reduce the exposure hazard for the worker and their family.
These are just a few things to know about potential exposure concerns to manganese. To learn more about this or other occupational, environmental, indoor air quality, health or safety issues, please visit the websites shown below.