News Feature | February 16, 2018

Man Dumps Potassium Cyanide In Stormwater Inlet

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

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A Pennsylvania man employed by a major pharmaceutical laboratory allegedly stolen poisonous chemicals and dumped them into a public stormwater inlet after he learned he was under investigation.

Authorities initially determined "there was a real threat to the downstream drinking water intakes and aquatic life," NBC 10 Philadelphia reported, citing a criminal complaint filed this week.

"After two weeks of intensive testing, searching, assessing and monitoring of stormwater, outfalls, retention basins, waterways and their tributaries, [Pennsylvania environmental overseers] found no evidence of a toxic impact," the complaint said. "At no time was cyanide detected."

Richard O'Rourke, 60, of Warrington was employed as a senior chemist at a Merck laboratory in Montgomery County.

He “has been charged with causing or risking catastrophe in connection with the alleged incident, which happened in December,” Patch.com reported, citing the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, the FBI and local police departments.

O’Rourke brought home over 200 grams of potassium cyanide from work without permission, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. A coworker spotted him nabbing the chemicals. O’Rourke claimed he wanted it for pest control in his home.

“Potassium cyanide is the crystal form of the fast-acting chemical that prevents cells from using oxygen, causing them to die,” The Inquirer reported, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

O’Rourke dumped the poison in a stormwater inlet after he was notified he had been reported to the company.

“The FBI and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection joined the investigation, and the DEP began monitoring the water supply in the area. The Philadelphia Water Department and Aqua PA also began testing and monitoring samples from intake facilities they operate in the vicinity,” the report said.

O’Rourke remains in jail on on $35,000 bail, NBC 10 Philadelphia reported.

Image credit: "POISON" Mark Knobil © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/