MANGANESE: STEEL, BILLIONAIRES, AND GOVERNMENT COVER-UPS
Manganese is a key component of modern steel. It is an essential nutrient and a neurotoxin. And it was a cover-up for one of the most secretive and expensive CIA plots of the Cold War.
Almost all steel currently in use relies on manganese for some of its most important properties. Manganese is added to iron ore to remove oxygen and sulfur. It is also used as an alloy to make steel stronger, more durable, and less likely to break. Steels with very high levels of manganese (up to 15%) are very tough and have been used for safes, gun barrels, and military helmets.
Because manganese is an important component of steel and is also used in some welding, it is often a component of welding fumes. In this situation, it is very dangerous: inhaled manganese causes a form of brain damage that can mimic Parkinson’s disease, with tremors and difficulty walking. Inhaling manganese fumes can also occur any time a material containing the metal is cut with a laser or plasma cutter. It’s one of the reasons a good dust and fume collection system such as our CMAXX™ is important in these applications.
HERE IS AN INTERESTING STORY
Okay, so… where do the billionaire and the covert CIA operations come in?
In 1968, a Soviet submarine armed with nuclear missiles sank in the Pacific Ocean in international waters. The Soviet search vessels were unable to locate the wreck, and the CIA very much wanted access to what might be a treasure trove of Soviet nuclear secrets and codes. However, hanging around in the vicinity of a missing Soviet nuclear submarine would be difficult to explain. A cover story was needed, and that cover story was manganese.
With the help of billionaire Howard Hughes, the CIA hid their operation, called “Project Azorian”, by claiming that their huge deep sea exploration ship was designed to go prospecting for the huge amount of manganese found on the ocean floor in the form of manganese nodules, lumps of manganese and iron. In theory, Howard Hughes’ company would profitably harvest these nodules with a ship equipped for exploring and collecting things from the bottom of the ocean. Since manganese is important for steel manufacturing (and therefore important to the military) and almost all of it is mined outside the United States,
In reality, this was never a reasonable way to get access to a metal that is easily mined in many parts of the world. However, it was an excuse to send a ship equipped with everything needed for the project to wander around the Pacific. On paper, the ship was owned by Hughes and wouldn’t attract as much attention as a military vessel while probing around in international waters.
The project was able to recover parts of the sub, possibly including two missiles and other classified information, but most of the submarine could not be recovered. After Project Azorian ended, prospecting for manganese on the ocean floor was abandoned in favor of the less ridiculous solution of digging it out of the ground.
There are also people who think the cover-up was a cover-up, pretending to be interested in the lost submarine when in reality they were trying to access deep sea communication cables or build underwater nuclear weapon launchers. This story seems approximately as logical as deep ocean rock collecting, although if surface reserves of manganese ever run out, the nodules scattered across the ocean floor might be a target of interest again.