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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Community members look on as Captain Michael Yowell of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office addresses the media on July 21, 2016. THC was supposedly discovered in the water in Hugo prompting a city and federal investigation. [Michael Reaves/The Denver Post]
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Community members look on as Captain Michael Yowell of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office addresses the media on July 21, 2016. THC was supposedly discovered in the water in Hugo prompting a city and federal investigation.
[Michael Reaves / The Denver Post]

Some folks apparently really need for marijuana to be scary.

Take, for example, public officials in the small town of Hugo, Colorado. On Thursday afternoon, authorities told the town of about 800 people not to drink the water for at least 48 hours, because it supposedly has THC in it. Actually, at first, they even said it shouldn’t be used to cook with, or even to bathe; the warning was later downgraded so that it was safe to shower, brush teeth and do laundry.

The initial screening was done with a “field testing kit,” Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Captain Michael Yowell said, reports Keith Coffman at Reuters. The state health department will conduct more thorough testing.

Law enforcement authorities guard a water well where they say signs of possible tampering occurred on July 21, 2016. THC was discovered in the water in Hugo prompting a city and federal investigation. [Michael Reaves / The Denver Post]
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Law enforcement authorities guard a water well where they say signs of possible tampering occurred on July 21, 2016. THC was discovered in the water in Hugo prompting a city and federal investigation.
[Michael Reaves / The Denver Post]

“The contaminated well has been identified and shut down and the lines are being flushed,” the alert said. “Fresh water will be coming into town for the public as soon as possible.”

Only one well seems to be supposedly “contaminated,” and officials said that the well might have been deliberately tampered with, reports Alessandra Potenza at The VergeMore than 2,500 bottles of water have already been distributed to residents.

Yowell said he understands that some are questioning how and why THC would be found in the water, but “I wouldn’t be doing my job for the community if we just wrote this off.”

“We are checking to make sure this isn’t because of the field test kit — that it isn’t a false positive,” Captain Yowell said.

Peter Perrone, Gobi Analytical: "Quote"
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Peter Perrone, Gobi Analytical:
“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water”

Now, there have been zero reports of any health issues related to Hugo’s water supply — there were no complaints, nobody even dizzy. Susan Kelly, Lincoln County Public Health director, said there were no reports of anyone falling ill or being otherwise affected in any untoward way by the supposedly “tainted” water.

Beyond that, in a crucial point which has been largely ignored by the mainstream press, THC is not soluble in water.

“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water,” said Peter Perrone, owner of Gobi Analytical, a Colorado-based recreational cannabis testing facility and first state-approved laboratory of its kind, reports Ben Guarino at The Washington Post.

“It’s virtually impossible to find THC in water in concentrated levels because cannabinoids are not water soluble,” Perrone told Reuters.

Joseph Evans, Nordic Analytical Laboratories: "Quote"
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Joseph Evans, Nordic Analytical Laboratories:
“The one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water”

Perrone’s skepticism is based on the fact that, like oil, THC doesn’t dissolve in water. In fact, overcoming the insolubility of THC has posed a problem for pharmaceutical researchers.

Even when THC is liquefied with a detergent, it’s likely to “precipitate,” forming clumps and thus undoing all the hard work of dissolving, noted British and American scientists in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 2006, “if care is not exercised.”

“The one thing that bothers me about this story from a scientific perspective is that THC is so insoluble in water,” said Joseph Evans, a former EPA scientist who now directs Nordic Analytical Laboratories, a cannabis testing lab in Denver, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post. “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.”

Dan Burgard, University of Puget Sound: "Quote"
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Dan Burgard, University of Puget Sound:
“It’s probably a false positive from the test kit; that would be my gut”

Beyond that, “The amount of THC required would have to be financially ludicrous for anyone to do this as a practical joke,” agreed Dan Burgard, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Burgard, who is currently studying THC traces in Washington state wastewater, doesn’t believe the Hugo contamination — if it even exists — could be from raw marijuana. Unless weed is smoked or cooked, or the THC is otherwise decarboxylated, the plants are not psychoactive.

“It’s probably a false positive from the test kit; that would be my gut,” Burgard said.

“There have been a lot of comments and questions regarding THC being soluble in water,” the Lincoln County Public Health Facebook page posted Friday afternoon. “Please be aware that until we have test results back from CBI we are unable to properly identify what exactly is in the water in Hugo. We only know that the water tested positive for THC but that test was not specific as to the whole or parts of the THC (or metabolites).”

“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,” admitted Lincoln County Health Officer Dr. John Fox, even as he warned locals about supposed symptoms of “marijuana excess,” including elevated heart rate, paranoia, hallucinations and vomiting.

“At this time, investigators are assessing the situation with state and federal authorities,” the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said.

Some greeted the news with more of a sense of humor. Former Mayor Patsie Smith said she received an emergency message shortly after 3 p.m. telling residents not to drink the water because there could be THC in it.

“I might go have to drink some water,” she said.

 

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