Montgomery County

Chemist Charged With Stealing Cyanide From Merck in Montgomery County

A veteran chemist at Merck & Co.'s Montgomery County facility allegedly stole a vial of a dangerous substance in December, then dumped it into a stormwater drain near his home in Warrington, authorities said in a criminal complaint filed this week.

Richard O'Rourke, who has worked for Merck since 1990 as a senior analytical chemist, allegedly admitted to taking 219 grams of potassium cyanide from the facility om Upper Gwynedd Township, the complaint said.

According to authorities, he said he wanted to use the chemical to kill rodents at his home. The complaint also said O'Rourke had told a co-worker that "he had a 'coon' problem at his home."

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Once O'Rourke was confronted by a co-worker who allegedly saw him take the chemical, he went home and dumped it into a stormwater inlet somewhere near County Line and Easton roads, the complaint said.

He told investigators he did it following a snowstorm and couldn't remember where exactly he dumped the chemical.

Local authorities worked with state and federal environmental to test the local water supply. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection initially determined "there was a real threat to the downstream drinking water intakes and aquatic life," the complaint said.

Those downstream drinking intakes included Aqua PA, which uses the Neshaminy River, and the Philadelphia Water Department, which uses the Delaware River, according to the complaint.

Both water supply organizations tested water at their intake stations, and the state DEP remained on "high alert" for two weeks, ending Dec. 29.

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

O'Rourke has been charged with risking catastrophe, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and reckless endangerment.

He remained jailed on $35,000 bail.

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