MEDICAL RESEARCH

Colorado town's water may be tainted with marijuana chemical

In this Dec. 31, 2013 file photo, employees tends to marijuana plants at a grow house in Denver.

In this Dec. 31, 2013 file photo, employees tends to marijuana plants at a grow house in Denver.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)

HUGO, Colo. — Officials told residents of a small Colorado community not to drink or shower in tap water Thursday because one of the town's wells may have been contaminated with THC, marijuana's intoxicating chemical.

No illnesses have been linked to the water in Hugo, a town of about 730 people some 100 miles southeast of Denver, said Lincoln County Public Health Director Susan Kelly.

THC was detected in tests conducted with field kits, although other field tests were negative, sheriff's Capt. Michael Yowell said.

More definitive laboratory tests were underway, he said.

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The field tests weren't capable of showing how much THC was in the water, but only whether the chemical was there, he said.

Investigators found signs that one of Hugo's five wells had been tampered with, but they hadn't determined whether someone deliberately tainted the water, Yowell said.

The FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are helping with the case, he said.

Hugo prohibits marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing, testing facilities and retail marijuana stores, although those activities are legal elsewhere in the state.

Peter Perrone, owner of a marijuana testing facility in the Denver area, expressed doubt that THC could be in the water. The chemical isn't water-soluble, he told The Denver Post.

Yowell said investigators were aware of that but had to follow up because of the field test results.

He said a company that administers employee drug tests was the first to detect THC in Hugo's water. A tester sampled tap water, assuming it would be negative, but it was positive.

It's unlikely that consuming pot-tainted water would cause lasting health effects, said Mark Salley, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

The effects of drinking THC-laced water would depend on the concentration, the amount consumed and how quickly it was consumed, and officials don't yet have that information, Salley said.

Consuming water containing THC would be similar to eating marijuana-infused food, meaning the effect would depend entirely on how much was consumed and the strength of the tainted water.