Wednesday, May 31, 2023

UNH grad student charged with felonies for attempting to manufacture dimethylmercury at home

From (article by Damien Fisher): 

The man who made himself sick mixing unstable chemicals in his Durham apartment seems to be a victim of his own recreational interests, according to Assistant Strafford County Attorney Joachim Barth.

“He appears to be a hobbyist,” Barth said. 

Emad Mustafa, 29, is now facing felony charges of reckless conduct and improper disposal of hazardous waste after investigators searched his Oyster River Road apartment this week.

Via WMUR, it sounds like he was following a YouTube video: 

A Ph.D candidate at UNH who is facing criminal charges after an apparent hazmat situation near campus over the weekend was trying to follow a YouTube video that specifically warned viewers not to repeat the experiment, according to Durham police.

Police said the suspect, Emad Mustafa, 29, called authorities himself on Saturday, saying he may have been exposed to a toxic chemical.

According to new court documents, Mustafa told officers he believed he had made a chemical called dimethyl mercury inside his Oyster River home.

He told officers that mixing the chemical caused a flash-burn, creating smoke and toxic vapor.

It is grimly ironic that a graduate student was attempting to create dimethylmercury 100 miles away from Dartmouth, where Karen Wetterhahn died of exposure to the compound. It's cold comfort that he is studying physics and not chemistry. 

I can't get very excited about this, i.e. there is no viable policy response to people who order chemicals online to perform unwise chemical experiments at home. (I suppose it wouldn't hurt my feelings much if Amazon and other online retailers made it more difficult to access mercury, and I am genuinely surprised that this person managed to access dimethylsulfate as well.) 


  1. Restrictions on Amazon or other online retailers wouldn't have mattered. I'm guessing this guy ordered chemicals for delivery to a university lab, not to a residential address.

    I think this stuff is already locked down pretty well for the general public. I had to fight with my own company's compliance people whenever I would send a chemical sample to someone with a legitimate home-based business because residential addresses were an automatic red flag, and these were substances with no nefarious uses.

    1. Eh, I had an intern once who bragged that he had thorium at home. I thought he was kidding until he got picked up by the cops and the National guard hazmat team cleared his apartment. Turned out he had picked up a bunch of chemicals from an academic lab that was shutting down... I assume they thought he was taking them for a different University lab. I also think his intentions were benign, but he stored the thorium and other fun things like cacodyl oxide by his bedside...


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