DA: Merck chemist stole, dumped potassium cyanide

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Thursday, February 15, 2018
DA: Merck chemist stole, dumped potassium cyanide
DA: Merck chemist stole, dumped potassium cyanide. Walter Perez reports during Action News at 6 p.m. on February 14, 2018.

UPPER GWYNEDD TWP., Pa. (WPVI) -- An employee of pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co. is accused of stealing potassium cyanide for use as a rodent killer, then dumping it in a stormwater inlet when he feared he would be caught.

The Montgomery County district attorney's office said 60-year-old Richard O'Rourke, of Warrington, stole about 220 grams of the chemical from the lab in Upper Gwynedd Township.

At the time he was employed as a senior analytical chemist, investigators said.

The District Attorney. said the investigation began in December after another chemist allegedly saw O'Rourke pouring the potassium cyanide - which was taken out of a poison cabinet - into a bottle.

Authorities say they learned O'Rourke planned to use the chemical to poison rodents on his property, but when he found out there was an investigation he dumped it into a stormwater inlet in the area of County Line Road and Street Road, between Easton Road and Second Street Pike.

Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub says O'Rourke's reaction is disturbing but not surprising.

"Our theory is that he panicked, didn't have a right to the material that was very deadly poison, and we think that he just panicked," Weintraub said.

Water officials have since tested the water repeatedly in this section of Bucks County.

Dr. Chris Crockett, AQUA-PA Chief Environmental Officer says, "We went through the streams in our area to look for signs of potential dead fish as well as collecting samples out in the stream where this could have been potentially dumped to see if we could detect it anywhere."

We are happy to report that no traces of potassium cyanide have been detected in any local streams, rivers, or the waters supply.

Action News spoke with people in the area who say they are still concerned.

Jennifer Harnick of Warminster said, "This just adds one more reason on top to stick with drinking spring water and having that added expense. On top of an already inflated water bill."

As it turns out, both Aqua PA and the Philadelphia Water Department maintain intake facilities that could have been affected by the chemical dump, investigators said.

The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection monitored the water samples from the intake systems for two weeks, but no toxic impact was found.

Significant rainfall helped dilute and wash away the chemical, helping to ensure no one was harmed, authorities said.

O'Rourke is free on $35,000 bail.


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