Senior Merck chemist charged with risking catastrophe after pouring cyanide into Pennsylvania stormwater drain

One of Merck’s senior analytical chemists has just been charged with recklessly endangering the lives of others near his home town of Warrington, PA.

Richard O’Rourke

This all played out last December, when one of Richard O’Rourke’s colleagues noticed him pouring 219 grams of potassium cyanide he had picked up from the “poison cabinet” at Merck into a Nalgene bottle.

According to the police and FBI, O’Rourke was stealing the cyanide to kills rats. But when the 60-year-old chemist noticed that he had been observed, he made an even worse choice in deciding to pour it out “into a stormwater inlet in the area of County Line Road and Street Road, between Easton Road and Second Street Pike.”

Local officials scrambled to start testing the water in the area to see if anyone would be exposed, but determined that a hard rain had evidently flushed it out without harming anyone.

“It is concerning that someone was able to remove such a poisonous chemical, but thankfully through an immediate and swift response by many people, nobody was hurt,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele in a statement.

O’Rourke has been charged with causing or risking catastrophe, theft, receiving stolen property and recklessly endangering another person. He posted $35,000 bail and was released, pending a hearing next month.

The best place to read Endpoints News? In your inbox.

Comprehensive daily news report for those who discover, develop, and market drugs. Join 47,400+ biopharma pros who read Endpoints News by email every day.

Free Subscription

Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

Visit Endpoints Careers ->