Perfectly Sane Scientist Apprehended

Victor Deeb, a retired chemist in Marlboro, Massachusetts, called the fire department because his second floor AC unit was on fire. The next thing you know, he's barred from the house he's lived in for 20 years for three days because of gear for his hobby found in the basement. And no, his hobby doesn't involve grow lamps. The Worcester Telegram and Gazette reports:

[Deeb], who stored hundreds of chemicals in his house, was allowed to return home yesterday after authorities spent three days dismantling his basement laboratory.

None of the materials found at 81 Fremont St. posed a radiological or biological risk, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. No mercury or poison was found. Some of the compounds are potentially explosive, but no more dangerous than typical household cleaning products.

 Deeb has several patents on file and more pending, including something involving "aromatic alcohols" that is "usable in numerous elastomeric applications including interior and exterior vehicle parts, roofing, asphalt, and any other applications," and something else that has to do with grinding things and "elastomer slurry," not to mention a "method and apparatus for introducing colorant to resinous materials."

In other words: This is a legit, productive guy who wanted to keep working after retirement. He had nothing in his basement that posed a risk to himself or his neighbors—just a lot of jars and boxes of chemicals. They don't really know if there's even a rule against this: "I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere," is the best that Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro’s code enforcement officer, can come up with.

The most disheartening quote of all:

“He’s been very cooperative,” Ms. Wilderman said. “I won’t be citing him for anything right at this moment.”

Via Rimfax

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  • Elemenope||

    Am I a bad person for reading his name "Mr. Dweeb" at first?

    Back on topic, I learned way back in legal theory that Amerikan law operates on the "Legality Principle", i.e. something can only be proscribed if there is a specific law proscribing it. As opposed to the "Analogy Principle" of many other nations, which allows proscription of any activity analogous to a behavior already proscribed by law, or the "Arbitrary Principle", which allows proscription of any activity that the authorities don't care for.

    Fuck, my education is out of date.

  • NoStar||

    Velcom to ze new improved Amerika: If it isn't specifically allowed, it is verbotten!

  • ||

    has Reason already forgotten the lawyer you posted that told us never to talk to the police, because "there are so many laws nobody knows what they all are." Especially my favorite, bringing a lobster into the country if it breaks the law of ANOTHER COUNTRY.

  • Nigel Watt||

    Or to quote the Fark headline from last week, "Intelligence and curiosity are illegal in Massachusetts".

  • ed||

    Wait till they get their hands on that Edison guy.

  • New World Dan||

    There are a lot of questions to be answered, though. Was he venting reaction fumes in a residential area? Proper storage and disposal of chemicals? People are a lot more fearful of chemicals today, in part because we do know more about them.

    For reference, I was a chemistry major in college. I'm rather appalled at my work habits and lack of safety back in those days. I'm also a woodworker; a hobby that involves storing a variety of solvents, dies, varnishes, and other toxic substances. My safety and ventilation is improving, but still has a ways to go.

  • The Extispicator||

    There are no innocent Americans, only pre-guilty. That is, people who have "crossed a line somewhere," although the government has not yet discovered how or determined what line. These people are, therefore, not being cited at this very moment, but will be as soon as Big Brother decides what you did wrong.

  • ||

    How do we know the guy wasn't making meth and selling it to children?

    Or PCP?

    Or some "synthetic" drug that will get you hooked after one puff?

  • Douglas Gray||

    "I think Mr. Deeb may have crossed the line somewhere?"

    I would make Pamela Wilderman's position in the City Government a volunteer one, maybe filled by 14 yr olds from the local junior high school, but then again, forgive me for insulting all the intelligent junior high kids in this area.

  • ||

    FOOLS! Cower before my resinous materials!

  • ||

    Good thing Tesla didn't live in Marlboro Massive two-shits.

  • ||

    new world dan,
    no, they already answered those questions by implication. they specifically said there were no chemicals that posed a direct threat. And if he had been venting chemicals in the area, you can bet your ass they would have said as much, and cited him for it.

  • FormerMassResident||

    "He's been very cooperative," Ms. Wilderman said. "I won't be citing him for anything right at this moment."

    Unfortunately, this attitude is prevalent in Massachusetts. It's the kind of state where you have to call the town to get a "burn permit" to have a weenie roast in your backyard.

  • ||

    I have a beef with our over-regulated society, anyway, but the arbitrariness and unbounded discretion of its enforcers is particularly galling. In fact, I'm completely begalled.

  • Abdul||

    There was a similar, but even sillier, case in Arlington, VA. An eccentric guy collects snakes. When a plumber saw it, he thought it was illegal and called the cops. The snake collector refused to let the cops in because he hadn't done anything wrong. Now the entire neighborhood wants the snake-dude's hide because, you know, snakes are scary. Haven't you seen Anaconda I or II?

    here's one summary:
    http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0508/520995.html

  • Salvius||

    Kneel before me, or be reduced to an elastomer slurry!

    They called me "mad" at Oxford. But I'll show them! I'll show them all! AHHH-HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  • ||

    So this is the, "If we don't understand it, destroy it." principle in action. Makes perfect sense!

    Regards,
    TDL

  • Episiarch||

    He's smart and inventive, so he must be feared. Burn the witch!

  • Elemenope||

    Epi -

    Is today Monty Python Day, or something? This isn't the only thread you've whipped it out on.

  • KenK||

    "I think Mr. Deeb may have crossed the line somewhere?"

    We have an official line drawer arriving shortly to draw a line right behind where Mr. Deeb is standing now.

  • ||

    "I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere," is the best that Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro's code enforcement officer, can come up with.

    Well that is certainly a good enough reason to confidcate somebody's personal property. Bureaucratic leech.

    Growing up, there was usually 10 - 20 pounds of gunpowerder in the basement. What would Pammie Wilderman think about that?

  • Episiarch||

    Every day is Monty Python Day. If you've enjoyed my Python quotes half as much as I have, then I've enjoyed them twice as much as you.

  • Elemenope||

    I just couldn't handle it being silly walks day today. I'm tired, and don't want to deal with the bureaucracy.

  • ||

    we apologize for the people responsible for Episiarch's comments. they have been sacked.

  • ||

    The snake collector refused to let the cops in because he hadn't done anything wrong.

    And he didn't get SWATted and the snakes shot? Those Arlington cops are real pikers.

  • ||

    In fact, I'm completely begalled.



    I was begalled a few years ago. I still have a lot of gall, but it's no longer being bladderized. Damn, I haven't had a proper stool since.

    I know, I know. TMI!

  • ||

    Oh, and I wonder if our intrepid experimenter will be billing the city for the repairs and restoration of his perfecly legal basement lab, that they destroyed.

  • Spiny Norman||

    Dinsdale!

    Dinsdale?

    Dinsdale!

  • Episiarch||

    Come see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I'm being repressed by TAO!

  • ||

    Begalled could also mean that I think I'm turning Frenchified.

    R C Dean,

    Foolish man, this is a purely regulatory move, not a taking. Or it can be, with a little creative thinking.

  • Episiarch||

    Dinsdale!

    Interviewer: I understand he also nailed your wife's head to a coffee table. Isn't that right Mrs O' Tracey?

    Mrs O' Tracey: Oh, no. No. No.

    Stig: Yeah, well, he did do that. Yeah, yeah. He was a cruel man, but fair.

    Interviewer: Vince, after he nailed your head to the floor, did you ever see him again?

    Vince: Yeah...after that I used to go round his flat every Sunday lunchtime to apologize and we'd shake hands and then he'd nail my head to the floor.

    Interviewer: Every Sunday?

    Vince: Yeah but he was very reasonable about it. I mean one Sunday when my parents were coming round for tea, I asked him if he'd mind very much not nailing my head to the floor that week and he agreed and just screwed my pelvis to a keg stand.

  • gorgonzola\'s foil||

    So a fire occurs on a property, the fire department comes, and after putting out the fire and in the process of investigating the fire, the FD finds flammable/explosive materials that may or may not be stored properly or in quantities great enough to at least give a fire inspector the shits, and he does not clear the property for resumed residence until the materials are further investigated or removed, which takes 3 days. The DEP seems to have overreacted and used the full kit (chemical, biological AND nuclear!), but that's their budget. Nonetheless, I can't fault the FD's inital reaction. This isn't a great poster story for private property rights.

    If the fire had spread from 2nd floor to basement, and the chemicals actually exploded, and firefighters had been hurt or died, would Mr Deeb be personally responsible for negligence at minimum?

  • ||

    Given the reaction of the Boston police to the Lite-Brite caper and the State Police to the MIT girl's electronic sweatshirt at Logan Airport, Mr Deeb should consider himself lucky that he wasn't gunned down by a SWAT team.

    Make it in Massachusetts!*

    (* unless it's an amateur chemistry or electronics project)

  • ||

    Deeb's co-operation is more understandable given that the official position of the code enforcement officer is not they don't really know if there's a rule against this as Mangu-Ward reported but that scientific research and development in a residential area is a violation of zoning laws.

  • ||

    gorgonzola's foil said: "...and the chemicals actually exploded..."

    Separated as they were in their own containers the explosive potential was negligible. If he had some raw sodium and the jar broke and water hit it, it would blaze up, not blow up for instance. The Explosive potential is from mixing them into a compoud with explosive properties. Only a few things can actually explode instead of off-gas. Black gun powder is one. Nitro-glycerin is another. The rest just generate a large amount of gas that can blow a container from the over pressure. That's why a lot of stuff is in cardboard containers - they go pop instead of boom.

  • Jimmy||

    I work for one of the companies whose products were "discovered" in this poor guy's basement. He had some completely non-hazardous chemicals (thickeners) from my company.

    This story has me interested because I'm a trained chemical engineer, and dabbling inventor. I don't think the government should be able to stop me from doing a little chemistry with nonhazardous stuff on my own property. This guy is ucky he didn't have his house invaded by a swat team.

  • Robert Goodman||

    The whole bit is a manifest'n of the widespread belief that there are such things as "chemicals", and that these are unlike the everyday materials (whose composition we are ignorant of) we deal with and are per se dangerous.

    I too had a couple of patents issue from research I did with "chemicals" at home.

  • ||

    If the fire had spread from 2nd floor to basement, and the chemicals actually exploded, and firefighters had been hurt or died, would Mr Deeb be personally responsible for negligence at minimum?

    No. Not any more than you would be in trouble for having a black pipe full of flammable natural gas in it. How about the gasoline cans in the garage? Hair spray? Spray paint? Ammunition?

  • Jimmy||

    gorgonzola's foil said: "...and the chemicals actually exploded..."

    The guy was working with paint chemicals, mainly for water based latexes (which don't explode.) Quite safe stuff. Ammonia was probably the most dangerous chemical, hence "no more dangerous than typical household cleaning products."

  • TallDave||

    Argh, LEO is far too often like a guy who's only ever owned a hammer finding a screw and saying "Hey, this looks like a nail!" and proceeding to beat the crap out of it to no one's profit.

  • Dello||

    I wonder how long before they come and take my arc welder. After all, it can create fire and is a shock hazard...

  • bubba||

    Commerical chemistry labs are very highly regulated, and they don't belong in residential neighborhoods.

    Seriously.

    It's not fair to the neighbors, or to the fire department.

    The fact that this guy has patents says NOTHING about his safety practices, and plenty about his willingness to do commerical grade chemistry. Again, it doesn't belong in his house.

  • ||

    FOOLS! Cower before my resinous materials!

    I just want to point out that Jeff P has a threadwinner here. I LOLed.

  • } ~||

    I don't remember where the witch trials were.

    Anyone?

  • Jimmy||

    bubba - "commercial chemistry labs" - this is a meaningless phrase. This guy was doing formulating, not reactive chemistry, and he was using manifestly non-hazardous chemicals.

    It should not be difficult to understand that mixing non-hazardous materials in one's basement is not inherently dangerous, or "not fair to the neighbors."

    So many people have a sad fear - "chemicals" are bad and dangerous. Believe it or not, professional chemists tend to have a good sense for safety. Here is another surprise - chemicals are not uniformly dangerous. Yet another surprise - being "very highly regulated" is not always necessary, or good.

  • ||

    Bubba, would you have said the following, if the cops had gone in and destroyed someone's remodeled kitchen?

    Commerical chemistry labs kitchens are very highly regulated, and they don't belong in residential neighborhoods.

    Seriously.

    It's not fair to the neighbors, or to the fire department.

    The fact that this guy has patents written cookbooks says NOTHING about his safety practices, and plenty about his willingness to do commerical grade chemistry food preparation. Again, it doesn't belong in his house.


    I ask because the type of chemistry this guy was apparently doing is identical to the type of chemistry one does when baking. His patents are, effectively, for original recipes.

  • J.P.||

    I "think" Ms. Wilderman shouldn't be enforcing code/laws if she can only "think" someone violated them. I generally like my enforcement folks to "know" what laws they are trying to enforce.

  • ||

    I "think" Ms. Wilderman shouldn't be enforcing code/laws if she can only "think" someone violated them. I generally like my enforcement folks to "know" what laws they are trying to enforce.

    Oh come on, be reasonable!

    I love the headline. "Mad" / "Perfectly sane" - HA

  • ||

    Bubba,
    Commerical chemistry labs

    What is the difference between "commercial chemistry labs" and a hobby using chemicals?

    How do you know his experiments were the former and not the latter?

  • Cactus||

    Ah the police state. Where they don't even need a law to confiscate your property.

    God forsaken fascist fucks.

  • ||

    If MA can't tell the difference between a bomb and an LED sign, why should we think they know the difference in chemicals?

  • ||

    I bet these idiots would send the hasmat team if someone reported a neighbor spraying Dihydrogen Monoxide on his lawn.

  • ||

    TrickyVic wins the thread.

  • Ben1||

    My friends, I have here a petition against dihydrogen monoxide. It is drowning the planet. It is literally precipitating out of the sky, where it is collecting in such quantities as to actually block out the sun in some areas. Friction based electron detachments regularly accrue, creating ions where previously there were none, and eventually, the earth is struck with deadly electrical bolts that turn the air to a violent plasma and transmit shock waves for miles. In additional, rogue streams of dihydrogen monoxide often carry off small children and animals. You can see that dihydrogen monoxide is the worst threat we have ever faced. Please sign, have your neighbors and friends sign, and pray for our success in banning this vile and dangerous chemical. No one is safe from this threat, so remember our battle cry: If we don't stop it, no one will!


    by:___________________

    date:_________________

  • ||

    I am the daughter of Victor Deeb and what they did and took from my father is not only unfair but devastating to an old man whose life for the last 40 years has been chemistry. They not only took all of his chemicals (which he used in his research for non-toxic sealants for baby food jars) but 20 years of notes that were valuable only to him. Now his research notes have magically disappeared into thin air. Can someone tell me where the justice is in that?

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