Wells shut after high manganese levels detected at Brandle Road site

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The village of Altamont shut down its Brandle Road wellsite after high levels of manganese were detected.

ALTAMONT — The village in February received notice that a water sample had tested for higher-than-allowable levels of manganese, but by March that number had dropped below the maximum contaminant level permitted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“But you have to average the two together,” Altamont Superintendent of Public Works Jeff Moller told trustees at their April 5 meeting.  

On Feb. 23, the village was notified that a Feb. 17 sample from its Brandle Road wellsite contained 0.59 milligrams of manganese per liter; the maximum contaminant level allowed by the EPA is 0.3 milligrams per liter. The village then resampled on March 8 and found levels were below the maximum level, at 0.28 milligrams per liter

So, “it was above the .3 standard,” Moller said of the combined rates. 

The average of the two samples had been 0.435 milligrams of manganese per liter.

The exposure rate set by the EPA, 0.3 milligrams per liter, is what the agency considers a safe level of lifetime exposure to manganese in drinking water. The “lifetime health advisory value of 0.3 mg/L will protect against concerns of potential neurological effects,” according to the EPA. 

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Moller said of the manganese number dropping by nearly half. “We don’t know why all of a sudden it dropped. We don’t know why all of a sudden it spiked,” he told trustees on April 5. “But [to] err on the side of caution, we shut this site right down and the engineers are working on it to see what’s going on.”

Moller said he didn’t know how long the two Brandle Road wells, which opened in 2007, would be closed.

The site is currently being operated once a week, “pumping it to waste,” Moller said, “and then our engineers are going to sample it.”

“Right now,” Moller said, “nobody knows what’s really going on with those two wells.”

A March 31 letter to village customers said, “This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified within 24 hours.” Altamont provides an average of 190,000 gallons of water a day to about 832 customers, serving a population of about 2,000, according to the latest drinking water quality report from the village, from 2020

The letter said there’s nothing customers “need to do. You do not need to boil your water or take other corrective actions. However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor.”

The letter went on to say, “If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your health care providers about drinking this water.”

Moller said approximately 30 percent of the village’s drinking water comes from Brandle Road, so “even with that high number,” it was getting mixed with the remaining 70 percent supply coming from Gun Club Road, so the water sent out to customers didn’t have levels of manganese that were “really that high.”

The Brandle Road wells came online about a decade-and-a-half ago.

Moller did say, “If anybody has any concerns at all, any health concerns, definitely contact Albany County.” 

Moller said the state and county say testing doesn’t have to be performed more than every two years. “So every two years we’ve been testing,” he said.

The EPA standard is to test for a combination of iron and manganese, which can’t be higher than 0.5 milligrams per liter, and hadn’t been since the Brandle Road wellsite went into production, Moller said. “But this time we tested for manganese exclusively and not iron, and that’s when we got that hit.”

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