Longitudinal and contemporaneous manganese exposure in apartheid-era South Africa: Implications for the past and future

Int J Paleopathol. 2015 Mar;8:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2014.09.005. Epub 2014 Nov 6.


Manganese is a potent environmental toxin, with significant effects on human health. Manganese exposure is of particular concern in South Africa where in the last decade, lead in gasoline has been replaced by methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT). We investigated recent historical levels of manganese exposure in urban Gauteng, South Africa prior to the introduction of MMT in order to generate heretofore non-existent longitudinal public health data on manganese exposure in urban South Africans. Cortical bone manganese concentration was measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer in 211 deceased adults with skeletal material from a fully identified archived tissue collection at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. All tissues came from individuals who lived and died in urban Gauteng (Transvaal), between 1958 and 1998. Median Mn concentration within the sampled tissues was 0.3μgg-1, which is within reported range for bone manganese concentration in non-occupationally exposed populations and significantly below that reported in individuals environmentally exposed to MMT. No significant differences were seen in bone Mn between men and women or in individuals of different ethnicity, which further suggests environmental, as opposed to occupational exposure. There were no significant temporal or geographic differences in bone Mn. The results suggest that Mn exposure was low and uniformly distributed across the whole population prior to the introduction of MMT as a gasoline additive. In addition, should manganese exposure follow the same patterns as vehicle-emitted lead, a clear pattern of exposure will emerge with individuals in the urban core facing the greatest manganese exposure.

Keywords: Bone concentration; Human exposure; Manganese; South Africa.