Residents worried to use water: Ironwood water investigation


IRONWOOD, Mich. (WJMN) — Local 3 News has been investigating the higher than normal manganese levels found in the Ironwood water supply. For necessary background information on manganese contamination and tests that have been done in Ironwood, click here. Below, we continue with the investigation by speaking with the residents of Ironwood.

“They’ve lost the public’s trust. That’s the bigger issue,” says Steve Frank, an Ironwood resident.

The people of Ironwood are growing restless with, what they say, is the city’s inaction.

“I’ve called him three times and the last one I left him a message and I just told him, ‘this is not right’,” explains Ironwood resident Mary Smith. “I talked to the people that were here to test my water, they told me to call and nobody answers the phone.”

The city of Ironwood has been found to contain higher than average amounts of manganese in its water system. While manganese is a naturally occurring metal that we need in our diet, too much can have health effects. The largest concerns are with young children and seniors.

All residential tests have come in below the human health advisory level set by the Environment Protection Agency, however, some downtown Ironwood water tests have come back with unsafe levels of manganese.

“We do take the water very seriously. Again, we’re very in tune to making sure that we meet or exceed all regulatory requirements for safe water, and we do,” says Ironwood City Manager Scott Erickson.

People like Tara Mayer say that doesn’t make them feel much better.

“It definitely doesn’t make me want to drink water that I’m unsure of, whether or not it’s safe to drink,” she says.

While city officials say that the water is safe and clean, residents say they are dealing with brown water that can have a very strong odor of chemicals. Some even told Local 3’s Korinne Griffith they are experiencing skin problems as a result of, what they think, is the city water.

“I’ve had other issues with skin irritations and things like that. Whether that’s coming from the manganese or the high content of chlorine in the water, I don’t know, and they can’t tell me.”

“I ended up getting lesions and almost like a version of dermatitis. My skin would start to crack,” explains Jon Hawes, Ironwood resident. “If I use this water too often it’s almost like my skin starts to go…it’s like reptile skin. It starts to dry out and crack.”

While they don’t know for certain what’s causing the skin irritation, some say they are still afraid to use the water.

“Now suddenly, when you go to your tap water, or you go to put water in your dog’s bowl, or you make your coffee, or you make your spaghetti, then all of a sudden ‘Hey wait a minute. What’s going on with our water?’,” says Dan Wood, Gogebic County Drain Commissioner.

Many people say they no longer use the water for anything other than bathing and laundry, for some not even that, and yet they say their water bills will continue to rise.

Local 3’s Korinne Griffith asked Ironwood neighbors on Facebook what was the cost of their latest water bill. Answers ranged from $120 per month for a household of two to more than $200 per month for a family.

For residents like Mary Smith, who is on Social Security, this price increase is difficult.

“I live by myself. When I had my kids, I was paying twenty to thirty dollars a month. Now I pay…it was $81.04 now it’s $82.94,” says Smith. “I mean it’s only $1.90, but when you’re on social security, sometimes that $1.90 might buy you a loaf of bread.”

The city says the high costs are because of previous work done on the water system.

“The rates are reflective of the work you’ve done on your system. Which we have done over the last 10 years, we’ve replaced a significant number of water mains throughout the community as they were old, they were about 80-100 years old and needed to be replaced,” explains Erickson.

Now, Ironwood residents say they just want answers.

“They want clean water, they want their city fixed,” says Dan Wood.

As we continue to investigate further, Local 3’s Korinne Griffith asks the city about their intent moving forward.

For part one of this investigative series, click here.

For part three of this investigative series, click here.

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