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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone July 21, 2023

Pipeline workers poisoned by fentanyl-laced water? Company said it never happened.

If Your Time is short

  • NPL Construction Co. said that a claim that two of its workers were poisoned by fentanyl-laced water they received from a passenger in a car is inaccurate.

  • Officials in two Chicago suburbs said there have been no reports that this incident happened, and a Drug Enforcement Administration official in Chicago called the claims "urban legends" in a tweet.

  • A similar claim emerged in San Diego and was shared by a gas and electric company there, but a company spokesperson said it was later determined that the incident could not be confirmed.

Worries about being poisoned by fentanyl have proliferated on social media in recent years as the deadly drug has worn on Americans. 

Some claims say police warned people to wipe the handles of shopping carts to avoid being poisoned by fentanyl residue. Others warned that people were overdosing by picking up dollar bills laced with the drug. Still others warned that gas station pumps were being laced with toxins so human traffickers could kidnap incapacitated victims.

The fentanyl crisis is real — nearly 110,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2022, the vast majority of them because of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. But PolitiFact has found no evidence supporting those claims about deadly surface contact.

A new claim has surfaced in recent weeks that construction workers were receiving water bottles on hot days from seemingly friendly passing motorists, only to find the beverages were laced with fentanyl.

A July 20 Facebook post shared what appeared to be a letter to employees from Precision Pipeline, a Wisconsin construction company. "Safety alert" was written on top of the letter, with a subject line that read, "Cautionary Incident Involving External Beverage Source."

The letter said two employees of another company, NPL Pipeline Co., working as flaggers, were offered water bottles by a passenger in a passing vehicle. The water bottles were laced with fentanyl, which left one of the workers dead and the other critically injured, the letter said.

The letter warned employees not to take food and beverages from anyone outside their team.

We reached out to Precision Pipeline to verify the authenticity of the letter, but didn’t hear back.

No evidence incident happened

We could find no "NPL Pipeline Company," as named in the letter, but there is an NPL Construction Co., an Arizona-based company that provides natural gas utility infrastructure services. It operates in 29 U.S.locations, including four in the Chicago area: The city of Chicago, Naperville, Cortland and East Chicago, Indiana.

NPL denied the letter’s premise in a July 21 Facebook post, a tweet and a post on LinkedIn.

"We are aware of a false report stating NPL employees were harmed after drinking drug-laced water offered to them by a member of the public. This information is entirely false," the posts said.

Bruce Van Wankun, a Cortland Police Department commander, said he spoke with an employee at the NPL office in that town, and that person "verified that this is a false hoax. It never happened."

The department has received no calls about an incident like the one the post describes,he said.

The Naperville Police Department hasn’t, either, said Kelley Munch, a city spokesperson.

"We are not aware of any such incidents occurring in our jurisdiction," Munch said.

Luis Agostini, a public information officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office, called the claims "urban legends" in a July 21 tweet that has since been deleted.

Similar claims across U.S.

Posts describing the same scenario — fentanyl-laced water given to outdoor workers — have surfaced in San Diego and Washington state.

A July 20 Instagram post shared an image of a document from SDGE, a gas and electric company in San Diego. The document, dated July 19, said two flaggers from a local contracting company that were working on a solar project were given fentanyl-laced water bottles, leading to the death of one worker.

Alex Welling, a spokesperson for SDGE, said the document was real, but the company later realized it could not confirm the incident.

"After further evaluation, we discovered the source of this incident information could not be confirmed. All external social media sources that posted this information have been taken down," Welling said. "However, while we couldn’t confirm the validity of this incident, our safety reminders are still important to keep in mind."

An undated article on the website of Big Frog 104, a New York country music station, said Rensselaer County Bureau of Public Safety’s director sent a May 25 email to county emergency services to warn them about a similar fentanyl-laced water bottle incident in Spokane, Washington.

We reached out to the Rensselaer County bureau to see if the email was real, but have not heard back.

In a search of Google and the Nexis database, we could find no credible news reports that incidents like this have happened in the Chicago area, San Diego or Spokane.

Our ruling

A social media post claimed two flaggers working for a pipeline company in the Chicago area were poisoned with fentanyl-laced water bottles given to them by a person in a passing car.

The post shared a letter from a Wisconsin company warning its employees about the incident. We were unable to verify if the letter is real. The letter’s claim that the workers at NPL, a separate company operating in Illinois, were poisoned is inaccurate. NPL posted on its social media accounts that the reports are false.

We could find no credible evidence the incident described in the letter happened. We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, July 20, 2023 (live, archived)

NPL Construction Co., Facebook post, July 21, 2023

NPL Construction Co., LinkedIn post, July 21, 2023

NPL Construction Co., tweet, July 21, 2023

Bruce Van Wankun, commander with the Cortland Police Department, phone interview, July 21, 2023

Kelley Munch, spokesperson for the City of Naperville, email exchange, July 21, 2023

Alex Welling, spokesperson for SDGE, email exchange, July 21, 2023

Luis Agostini, public information officer for Chicago division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, tweet, July 21, 2023

Big Frog 104, NY DOT sends out warning after flagger given fentanyl laced water, June 1, 2023

The Associated Press, Drug overdoses in the US slightly increased last year. But experts see hopeful signs, May 17, 2023

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More by Jeff Cercone

Pipeline workers poisoned by fentanyl-laced water? Company said it never happened.

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