Hugo, Colorado, THC Marijuana Well Water Contamination Controversy Put To Rest

The town of Hugo, Colorado, had an end put to its marijuana-water quandary recently. Contrary to what earlier field samples had shown, consequent laboratory testing demonstrated there was no THC — the psychoactive chemical in cannabis — in the Hugo’s water supply, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office stated Saturday.

However, what caused health-department officials to believe THC was in the water in the first place? To answer this question, we go to an unlikely source. The now ballyhooed THC controversy in Hugo arose when a local employer was randomly screening its employees for drugs with a standard-testing kit, but was noticing some oddities in the results. To check for implausible authenticity, the company tested the local tap water. Lincoln County sheriff’s Capt. Michael Yowell said the employer hoped the tap-water test would serve as a control for further screenings by showing what an infallible negative result would appear as.Hugo Well Water Free Of THC [Photo by AP Photo/Mike Groll]
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However, the employer’s field kit indicated the tap water was positive for THC, Yowell said. Upon learning of this, the company notified Hugo’s public works department. The department then ran its own test and determined THC was indeed present in one of the town’s five water wells — including other locations in the water system. Perturbed by the discovery of THC in one of the town’s local wells, officials began examining Hugo’s wells. Town employees discovered that one of the well houses showed signs of a forced entry.Pursuant to this revelation, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was brought in to collect samples for laboratory tests on Thursday. Health officials said none of the local citizens complained of symptoms after drinking the water, but they issued an advisory to be safe, stating short-term ingestion could impair coordination and increase anxiety and paranoia at the very worst.

Much to the City’s relief, the lab tests run by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were negative — and investigators believe the field test results were false, the sheriff’s department said.

On Saturday morning the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office stated the initial test kit results are now believed to have conclusively been false positives.

The initial positive field tests had been isolated to a single well, well No. 1, almost a mile south of Hugo’s downtown area. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said there was evidence to suggest the well had been tampered with. However, the well break-in is still being investigated.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s department said Saturday on Twitter: “The criminal investigation into damage on well #1 structure will continue.”

A water advisory warning Hugo residents to avoid drinking or using the town’s water was canceled Saturday morning.

“We are happy to report that the water advisory is cancelled immediately,” the sheriff’s office wrote Saturday. “Please resume any and all water activities.”

Concerning the prevalence of water systems that have been tainted with drugs before, it’s noted metabolized amphetamines and other ADHD medications have spiked in the sewage systems of college campuses during finals season, as reported in an April, 2013, study.

However, to effectively contaminate tap water with THC, a culprit would first have to dissolve the chemical. Scientist Peter Perrone’s skepticism concerning the Hugo water scare is based on a property known as solubility. Much like oil, THC doesn’t easily dissolve in water. In fact, overcoming THC’s poor solubility has presented a scientific dilemma for trained pharmaceutical researchers.

Hugo Water Free of THC [Photo by AP Common Stock]Perrone therefore surmises the probability of Hugo’s water being laced with THC to be an impossibility.

“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water,” Peter Perrone, owner of Gobi Analytical, told the Denver Post. Gobi Analytical is a Colorado-based recreational marijuana testing facility.

There were no reports of illness or symptoms from people drinking the water, Captain Michael Yowell, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office confirmed Saturday.

[Photo by AP Photo/Mike Groll]