Severity of parkinsonism associated with environmental manganese exposure

Brad A. Racette, Gill Nelson, Wendy W. Dlamini, Pradeep Prathibha, Jay R. Turner, Mwiza Ushe, Harvey Checkoway, Lianne Sheppard, Susan Searles Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Exposure to occupational manganese (Mn) is associated with neurotoxic brain injury, manifesting primarily as parkinsonism. The association between environmental Mn exposure and parkinsonism is unclear. To characterize the association between environmental Mn exposure and parkinsonism, we performed population-based sampling of residents older than 40 in Meyerton, South Africa (N = 621) in residential settlements adjacent to a large Mn smelter and in a comparable non-exposed settlement in Ethembalethu, South Africa (N = 95) in 2016–2020. Methods: A movement disorders specialist examined all participants using the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale motor subsection part 3 (UPDRS3). Participants also completed an accelerometry-based kinematic test and a grooved pegboard test. We compared performance on the UPDRS3, grooved pegboard, and the accelerometry-based kinematic test between the settlements using linear regression, adjusting for covariates. We also measured airborne PM2.5-Mn in the study settlements. Results: Mean PM2.5-Mn concentration at a long-term fixed site in Meyerton was 203 ng/m3 in 2016–2017 – approximately double that measured at two other neighborhoods in Meyerton. The mean Mn concentration in Ethembalethu was ~ 20 times lower than that of the long-term Meyerton site. UPDRS3 scores were 6.6 (CI 5.2, 7.9) points higher in Meyerton than Ethembalethu residents. Mean angular velocity for finger-tapping on the accelerometry-based kinematic test was slower in Meyerton than Ethembalethu residents [dominant hand 74.9 (CI 48.7, 101.2) and non-dominant hand 82.6 (CI 55.2, 110.1) degrees/second slower]. Similarly, Meyerton residents took longer to complete the grooved pegboard, especially for the non-dominant hand (6.9, CI -2.6, 16.3 s longer). Conclusions: Environmental airborne Mn exposures at levels substantially lower than current occupational exposure thresholds in the United States may be associated with clinical parkinsonism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Case control studies
  • Manganese
  • Parkinson disease
  • Parkinsonism


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