Chemist accused of stealing potassium cyanide, dumping it in storm drain

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Richard O’Rourke

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — A 60-year-old chemist who investigators say stole potassium cyanide from the pharmaceutical company he worked for and later dumped it in a storm drain was arrested Tuesday.

Richard O’Rourke, a former employee of Merck & Co. in Upper Gwynedd Township, is charged with causing or risking catastrophe, theft, receiving stolen property and recklessly endangering another person.

O’Rourke, who was not required to handle potassium cyanide as part of his work responsibilities, allegedly stole the chemical from the laboratory in December 2017. Investigators say he was planning to use it to poison rodents on his property. But when he found out that there was investigation into the theft, he dumped it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was then contacted and went through the necessary steps to make sure the chemical did not affect the water supply.

“The immediate and decisive action by the Pennsylvania DEP and the collaborative efforts by law enforcement agencies were key to assuring that no one was harmed by the cyanide dump. The significant rainfall helped as well,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said. “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.”

According to the state DEP, cyanide was not detected at the drinking water intakes nor from any samples collected and analyzed by Aqua PA and the Philadelphia Water Department.

O’Rourke was arraigned and posted $35,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 6.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.