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City says arsenic not a problem in Grants Pass water

A Grants Pass man who recently complained to Grants Pass City Council that he's sick because of arsenic in city water has apparently been taking his message to the streets. And the city issued a public notice Tuesday urging residents to ignore him, after phone calls came in from concerned citizens.

"At first he was going door-to-door, then he was handing out leaflets," Jason Canady, superintendent of the city's water filtration plant on M Street, told the Daily Courier.

"Then we got reports that he might be trying to present himself as a city official. "We felt it was best to get the word out that the information is absolutely incorrect, and the water is perfectly safe to drink."

Canady stopped short of naming the man, but a resident named Christopher Tolhurst aired his arsenic concerns in 2014 to the Daily Courier, and all signs point to Tolhurst in this case.

"We're pretty sure we know who it is," Canady said. "He's been to several City Council meetings complaining about arsenic levels."

At the Oct. 21 council meeting, Tolhurst repeated his claim that he almost died in July 2014 from arsenic poisoning. He claimed arsenic is being added to the water intentionally to punish city voters for rejecting public safety levies.

"If I have to go to every house in the city to tell everybody about the water situation, I will," said Tolhurst, who also dropped by the Daily Courier Tuesday to talk about arsenic.

Canady said the city can't keep Tolhurst from airing his opinions, but he shouldn't pass himself off as a public official.

"He's within his rights to free speech," Canady said.

In response to Tolhurst's claims, the city last year hired two independent labs — Neilson Research of Medford and Umpqua Research of Myrtle Creek — to test the city's raw water and finished water. The water at Tolhurst's home in northwest Grants Pass also was tested.

No arsenic was detected.

The city normally tests for arsenic once a year, unless levels of 10 parts per billion or more are discovered, which hasn't happened.

"Every test we've done the last 10 years has been non-detection," Canady said. "We've also been testing our raw water, and we're finding levels of 2 to 3 parts per billion."

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in volcanic soils.

Anyone with questions about city water may call Canady at 541-450-6119.

Tolhurst is no stranger to controversy, having made headlines in October 2012 when he stabbed and badly injured a man in a confrontation outside a Planned Parenthood health center in Grants Pass.

Tolhurst, an abortion protester who had been demonstrating at the location, claimed self-defense. No charges were filed against either man.