By Patricia Bogumil
As bad luck would have it, the first school in Wisconsin to have an issue with molybdenum in its water supply appears to be located in Racine County.
And concern about the molybdenum problem identified Jan. 18 at Raymond Elementary School is spreading.
At Raymond School, located in Franksville, the drinking fountains have been turned off for about a couple of weeks, and water dispensers and cups available at several locations in the building.
“We will continue this practice until the safety risk is gone or until we have a more lasting solution,” Joe Dawidziak, the district’s superintendent, explained to parents in a recent email. He said it is his understanding that Raymond School is the first in Wisconsin to be identified as having a molybdenum problem.
On Jan. 18, an official with the state Department of Natural Resources called Raymond School to warn about the dangerously high levels of molybdenum detected in the school’s water.
According to Racine County Health Department Director Cheryl Mazmanian, the problem at Raymond School was discovered as part of a two-year study done on water contamination from the Oak Creek Power Plant.
The water at both Drought Elementary and Raymond schools was tested, she said, with Drought’s water not showing elevated amounts of molybdenum.
What it is
Not much is know about molybdenum, but according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, molybdenum is a metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and is usually found in very small amounts. “It is an important dietary nutrient in very small quantities, yet too much molybdenum may cause health problems.”
Those problems can include anxiety, hallucination, and enlarged liver and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys, and gout-like disease such as joint pain in the hands and feet.
A new DNR web page on molybdenum explains how residents can get health information on molybdenum and how to access well testing and treatment options: http://dnr.wi.gov/ and type in the key word “molybdenum.”
Officials with DHS are in the process of finalizing a public health assessment of molybdenum in Caledonia and Oak Creek area private wells.
While the full assessment won’t be available for a few months, DHS epidemiologist Elizabeth Evans said it is very unlikely that drinking water at the levels found in the area would result in health effects for residents.
The low risk, according to state officials, is because of preventative safety factors built into the standards, allowing people to take action before experiencing health effects.
This week, the DNR is advising communities and well owners in southeast Wisconsin about testing their wells to detect elevated levels of molybdenum.
State, local officials and well owners first learned of molybdenum at elevated levels in private wells in the Caledonia area in August 2009, according to the DNR.
A group of 153 private wells were sampled in the area over the past two years, and 44 of these tested for levels of molybdenum above the state groundwater standard of 40 micrograms/liter, the DNR reported.
An extensive DNR study was completed in January 2013 and helped identify areas of Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties that have elevated levels of molybdenum, but it was unable to pinpoint the origin of the molybdenum.
“We were hoping the study would definitively tell us where the molybdenum in the wells is coming from,” said Eric Nitschke, DNR southeast regional director.
“While we’re still not able to determine that, we’re moving forward to continue to work with the affected well owners.”
Nitschke said the DNR recommends that, along with routine well testing for bacteria and nitrate, residents with private wells in the following communities should sample and test their well water for molybdenum:
• towns of Caledonia, Raymond and Norway in Racine County;
• City of Muskego in Waukesha County; and
• private well users in Franklin and Oak Creek in Milwaukee County.
The DNR will also work with water system owners to sample and test public water systems, including schools and daycare sites in the six towns. The agency is also planning to host a public information meeting on molybdenum with the village of Caledonia, with a date and location to be announced in the near future.
Well testing providers
The state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) has been working closely with water treatment firms on testing to provide an approved, in-home device for removal of molybdenum.
Glen Schlueter, a DSPS water treatment specialist, explained that while no treatment device is currently approved specifically for molybdenum removal, “distillation and reverse osmosis devices would effectively remove molybdenum.”
Testing of these devices that use reverse osmosis and distillation for removing molybdenum is underway, he added, and approval for that use is expected by March 30, 2013.
Well owners can have their water tested through a certified environmental laboratory. The DNR has a list of certified labs on its web site: http://dnr.wi.gov/regulations/labCert/documents/LabLists/WI_Mo_Labs.pdf.