Merck Chemist Arrested for Stealing Deadly Chemical


A 60-year-old chemist has been charged with stealing 219.79 grams of potassium cyanide, a deadly poison, from a Merck & Co. facility in Pennsylvania.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele announced Tuesday that Richard O'Rourke, a senior analytical chemist at Merck, was charged with the theft of the deadly chemical. According to the DA’s public statement, O’Rourke stole the potassium cyanide in December. A co-worker witnessed O’Rourke take the potassium cyanide from a poison cabinet and pour it into a Nalgene bottle, according to the report. The co-worker informed the company, which then informed police of the theft, the Philly Voice reported. O’Rourke’s day-to-day duties did not require him to handle potassium cyanide. O’Rourke has worked at Merck for 27 years, according to the report.

Following an intense investigation by authorities, it was determined that O’Rourke intended to use the poison to kill rodents on his property in Warrington, Penn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to potassium cyanide can be rapidly fatal. It can affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system and the pulmonary system.

When O’Rourke found out he was under investigation, the authorities said he then dumped the poison into a stormwater inlet – which then triggered a constant monitoring of water samples by the Aqua Water PA and the Philadelphia Water Department, according to the report. One of the possible dump sites O’Rourke could have used was Neshaminy Creek, which is used as a water supply by Aqua PA, Philly Voice reported.

The departments monitored the water for more than two weeks until it was determined that there were no traces of potassium cyanide found. Heavy rainfall during the time period may have helped in diluting the poison. That rain should have been sufficient to flush the potassium cyanide out of any stormwater inlet, leading the agency to determine that the chemical had been diluted and washed out, according to the report.

“At no time was cyanide detected at the drinking water intakes nor from any samples collected and analyzed by Aqua PA and the Philadelphia Water Department,” Steele said in a statement.

Steele said it was disconcerting that such an amount of poison could have been stolen from the pharma company. He added he was thankful no one was hurt.

O’Rourke has been charged with Causing or Risking Catastrophe, Theft, Receiving Stolen Property and Recklessly Endangering Another Person. He was set free on $35,000 bail. O’Rourke is scheduled to go to court on March 6.

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