Authorities in the rural Colorado town of Hugo are telling residents not to consume the water there because multiple preliminary tests have come back positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. While recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado, Hugo doesn’t allow those kind of businesses.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Cpt. Michael Yowell said they have found evidence that someone may have tampered with one of the town’s five wells, according to 9News. CNN reports that testing continues to determine the level of concentration, Yowell said.
State and federal agencies are helping local authorities in the investigation.
Hugo is a town of about 720 and is located in the eastern plains, approximately 100 miles southeast of Denver. Here is what you need to know about its water supply concerns:
1. Hugo Residents Shouldn’t Drink or Cook With the Water
Authorities have tested the water at least 10 different times, according the Denver Post. Yowell said of the 10 tests, six came back positive.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job for my community if we just wrote this off,” Yowell said.
A reverse 911 call went out to Hugo residents telling them not to drink the water, Colorado emergency management department spokeswoman Micki Trost said. Health officials say it’s OK to shower and wash hands with the water.
Health effects from ingestion of THC contaminated drinking water will depend on several factors including how much THC is in the water, how much water a person drinks, and how long the person is drinking the water, a Colorado health department statement said.
2. The Contamination is Identified at a Single Well, Which Appears Tampered
Hugo has five wells but authorities were able to trace the THC back to a single well — Well #1 — near its small downtown, the Post reports. There were signs of forced entry at the well, though it is unclear when the damage may have occurred, according to the Post.
Officials are expected to announce “conclusive” test results Friday afternoon:
3. The FBI and State are Helping the Local Sheriff’s Office with the Investigation
The Denver-based FBI office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, and Department of Public Health and Environment are aiding the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department in investigating the alleged tampering.
4. Officials are Distributing Bottled Water to Hugo Residents
Because of the tainted water supply, officials are bringing in bottled water for Hugo residents.
“Be calm, we’ve got it under control,” said Hugo Mayor Tom Lee. “There’ll be bottled water coming. … We feel like within 48 hours we’ll have this flushed out of the system.”
“We’ve purchased a bunch of bottled water and we’re going to just continue doing that until we find clarification that the water’s good to go…we’ve got family members about 20 miles out, or even further; if we need to we’ll travel to their houses to do laundry and bathe and so forth,” Jessie Kirby of Hugo said, according to KKTV.
5. Some Cast Doubts about THC Being Soluble in Water or Tests are False Positive
There are doubters, however. Some are saying that it’s not possible to spike water with THC — or even if they did, there wouldn’t be enough to cause public health concerns.
“It would take more product than any of us could afford to contaminate a city water supply to the extent that people would suffer any effects,” Dr. John Fox, Lincoln County’s health officer, said in a statement.
Peter Perrone, who owns Wheat Ridge cannabis testing facility Gobi Analytical, said cannabinoids such as THC or CBD “are in no way soluble in water,” The Cannabist reports.
“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water,” Perrone said.
The Cannabist also quoted Joseph Evans, a flab director at Nordic Analytical, a marijuana testing lab.
“The one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water,” Evans said. “I can’t imagine, I can’t even fathom the idea that THC would be in water at any type of solubility to create any kind of health hazard.”