Man, have things changed since I was in grad school. We used to pour all kinds of horrible things down the drain - mind you, this was a good twenty years ago. But you can't do that now, can you?
A respected University of Washington pharmacology professor became a felon Wednesday when he acknowledged dumping a flammable substance down a laboratory sink and then trying to conceal his actions.
Daniel Storm, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by flushing about four liters of the solvent ethyl ether. He faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced June 18, although prosecutors have recommended probation under the terms of a plea agreement.
Well, everywhere I've worked, the safety officers have tried to put the fear of RCRA ("rick-rah") into us, and by gosh, it looks like they may have had a point. Turns out that Prof. Storm's lab had several elderly containers of ether which turned up in a lab inspection, and he decided to get out of paying the $15,000 hazardous waste disposal bill. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.
And how: he went after the metal ether cans with an ax, which means that he was lucky not to blow himself up. (A stray spark from the metal could have done the trick, and who knows how much peroxide was in the stuff, for that matter). Why the Monty Python lumberjack routine? Well, the lids were too tight, and according to Prof. Strong, the ax just happened to be handy. (How many times have the police heard that old excuse, eh?) Yep, you can't pour ether down the sink like we used to, and you can't chop open the stuff with an ax like we. . .well, actually, we never used to do that. No one ever has, most likely.
What really ripped it was when he went on to fake paperwork from a nonexistant waste disposal company to make it look as if the ether had been properly hauled away. No, if you haven't clicked on that link yet, you'll have to take my word that I'm not making this up as I go along. But you get the impression that Professor Strong sure was. Makes you wonder if he had been exposed to too many fumes. A spokeswoman for the school says that she's unware of any similar incidents there, and I'll bet she's telling the truth. No, I've seen some stupid things done with diethyl ether, but this one threatens to retire the trophy.