Frequently, it has been observed by those who study the social sciences that while advances in medicine have saved many people from premature death resulting from disease or trauma, the scientific advance that has done the most to increase life expectancy is the ubiquitous availability of clean, safe drinking water.
Thanks to public water systems and strict health regulations regarding private wells, an array of waterborne microbes and parasites that were commonplace into the 1800s in developed nations, and remain threats in less fortunate parts of the world, are rare in our country, and county.
So reliable is the water system that when the tap yields water that is a bit off color or has an unusual odor questions quickly arise. Such was the case last week when levels of the elemental mineral manganese turned up in the water supply. The official explanation, and there's no good reason to doubt it's spot on, is that seasonal changes (that is to say hot weather) resulted in more manganese than usual being in the water of Loch Raven Reservoir, which is a key water source for Harford County as well as Baltimore City and County.
When the chemical difference in the water was discovered – it made tap water cloudy even after filtration and treatment – the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, which manages Loch Raven Reservoir, took precautions at the intake to fix the problem.
The good news is manganese is one of those chemicals that falls into the category of necessary vitamins and minerals. The National Institutes of Health reports: "Manganese is an essential nutrient involved in many chemical processes in the body, including processing of cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein. It might also be involved in bone formation."
That steps were taken to correct the elevated manganese levels in drinking water, however, was a much needed step because while the mineral is a good thing to have in the diet, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to certain vitamins and minerals.
While the change in drinking water is cause for concern as reliable water is a vital component of our way of life, it appears the problem was dealt with quickly and with minimal impact. The incident does, however, serve as a reminder of the importance, and potential fragility, of our vital water supply.