Community Submissions: A Private Citizen Rebuttal to “Statement from City of Charlestown Regarding Water Quality Issues”

Submitted by Ed Byers, Charlestown | On August 21, 2018, the City of Charlestown issued a statement about the latest hydrant flushing to reduce the delivery of discolored water due to manganese build-up in Charlestown’s obsolete water delivery pipes.  Hydrant flushing appears to aggravate both the manganese entry into drinking water and citizen dissatisfaction with current city government practices.

Drinking water discoloration and manganese build-up, the City points out, have been issues for over 60 years and city officials cite numerous efforts to fix this chronic problem.  Charlestown officials claim victory in that they receive fewer reports of brown water coming out of faucets in homes and businesses.  Yet, most home and business owners probably do not agree with the City as they have become tired of making reports as no viable solution has come from City Hall.  The episodes of unsightly and unhealthy appearances of brown water continue, but the reporting of such occurrences has become futile resulting in fewer expressed complaints, providing only the appearance of success.

Manganese is a natural occurring substance that, at proper levels, can be beneficial to human health.  Too much of it, however, can cause a toxic condition called manganese poisoning, first identified in 1837.  This condition can lead to a variety of psychiatric and motor disturbances with symptoms of irritability, mood changes, and compulsive disorders.  Long term exposure can lead to symptoms which resemble Parkinson’s disease.  Unfortunately for Charlestown, drinking water has been reported as a carrying agent.[1]

Manganese can be toxic, since over-exposure can lead to progressive and permanent neurodegenerative disease.  Over-exposure can cause damage to the central nervous system in addition to the lungs, liver, heart, reproductive organs, and fetal tissue.  According to the National Institute of Health, there are currently no established and reliable biological indicators to evaluate safe and unsafe levels of manganese exposure. [2]

The symptoms of manganese toxicity may appear slowly, taking months or years before becoming recognizable.  Many reports indicate that exposure to manganese through contaminated drinking water can cause harmful health effects.  Adverse health reactions in children include poor school performance, impaired cognitive function, abnormal neurobehavioral issues, increased oppositional behavior, and hyperactivity.  Many studies suggest that children exposed to high levels of manganese over a long period of time will eventually develop general cognitive impairments, diminished memory, attention deficit disorder, motor impairments, aggressiveness, and/or hyperactivity. [3]

In January of 2012, Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall announced that Clearitas would be introduced into the city’s water supply.  Hall admitted that Clearitas would not remove the manganese from the water; as it could only “treat” the water.  Hall assured over 100 citizens in a public meeting that water containing Clearitas was safe to drink.  John Bryum, the national director of municipal sales for the supplier of Clearitas also stated that Clearitas presented no risk of health problems.  Hall expected the Clearitas treatments to last 18 months to 2 years and assured citizens that the treatment would resolve the brown water problem.  At this same meeting, however, an unidentified Clearitas executive described the product as “highly ionized chorin (sic).[4]

A November 1, 2012 letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to a representative of Blue Earth Labs, the maker of Clearitas, shows that the substance is listed as a pesticide and that the active ingredient is Sodium Hypochlorite which is highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.[5]

The material safety data sheet advises firefighters to use respiratory protection and to stop run-off with Sodium Hypochlorite from reaching storm drains and water courses.  Areas involved with Sodium Hypochlorite should be highly ventilated.  Mixing the substance with acids can result in low concentrations of chlorine gas and hydrochloric acid.  Much of the toxicity levels of Sodium Hypochlorite are not established.[6] 

The National Institute for Health states that Sodium Hypochlorite is an oxidizing and bleaching agent and is listed as “dangerous” with significant potential of harm to the skin and eyes.  Additional health hazards include severe bronchial irritation and pulmonary edema if inhaled.  Ingestion hazards include nausea, vomiting, delirium, and coma.  When burned or allowed to decompose, Sodium Hypochlorite may generate toxic chlorine gas.  Although not listed as cancer-causing in humans, there is “inadequate evidence” to prove or disprove its ability to cause cancer in experimental animals.[7]

In a January 30, 2012 interview with WDRB television, Mayor Hall promised that the Clearitas would make the drinking water clear as quickly as one year from the initial treatment.  Benefits to the citizens of Charlestown would include no more sand or sediment buildups and eventually, no more brown water.[8]

The goal of all forms of government is to provide basic protection to citizens, including the safety of water and common resources which are owned by the entire citizenry of the town and the future generations that will reside here.  Protection efforts should be done with consideration to both present and future generations of Charlestown residents.

During the 2015 mayoral election, my wife and I spoke with each candidate to determine which one would obtain our support.  We visited Mayor Hall’s office at City Hall and he offered us bottled water upon our arrival.  I noted that water had been, and continues to be, a sensitive subject among Charlestown citizens and thought it was odd that the mayor offered us bottled water after publicly stating that Charlestown’s drinking water was safe.  When I asked about water quality, Hall stated that he planned to “recirculate” the water around town to keep the manganese from building up.  Central to this plan was the large water tower on County Highway 403.  It seems that the plans to clean up the water change with each election cycle.

Perhaps in the next election cycle, it’s time to change the decision-makers…….

About the author…Ed Byers was raised in Charlestown.  He has science and natural resource degrees from Purdue University (BS 1979) and The University of Arizona (1987).  He is finishing his Ph.D. in criminal justice at the University of Louisville.  He is retired after a 31-year career in federal law enforcement during which he investigated environmental crimes as a National Park Ranger and as a Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service.

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[1]  Retrieved from on August 25, 2018.

[2] Crossgrove and Zheng, 2014 in the National Institute of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine at retrieved on August 25, 2018.

[3] Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control Toxicological Profile for Manganese at on August 25, 2018.

[4] Retrieved from The News and Tribune at on August 25, 2018.

[5] Retrieved from on August 25, 2018.

[6] Retrieved from the safety data sheet for Sodium Hypochlorite from The Swisher Corporation at on August 25, 2018.

[7]Retrieved from The National Institute for Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine at on August 25, 2108.

[8] Retrieved from WDRB at on August 25, 2018.

1 reply »

  1. Ed, You could not have been more spot-on, I’m sure the mayor will include you in his group of “usual suspects” a name that he gives to any who would dare disagree or call him out on anything! Thanks for being concerned and for speaking out! Charlestown needs more people who have the guts to call things as they see them and to expose the mayor for what he is! I’ll stop there before I sink to his name calling level! Keep up the good work and Thank You!

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