Having a Brain and Using It: Illegal in Massachusetts

MARLBORO— Victor Deeb, the retired chemist 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.

All potentially hazardous materials were removed from the house, which the Deebs have owned since 1988. A cleanup company, contracted by DEP, is continuing to test the chemicals in a lab.

“Ultimately, they will be disposed of,” said DEP spokesman Joseph M. Ferson, who said the city’s Department of Public Works is making sure nothing seeped into the sewer lines.

Mr. Deeb declined to comment yesterday. Authorities say he has patents pending and had been using his basement as a science lab to conduct experiments, possibly for many years. Read the rest of the story at the Telegram.

So the man, a retired chemist, continued to do the experiments in his house, as he has for many years. He has patents pending on his findings. He’s not running a business. He does not have anything more hazardous than the cleaning products found at the local grocery store and stored in almost every household in America. Yet somehow a government official, who probably barely graduated, has determined that this is illegal and MUST BE STOPPED. His chemicals and equipment were confiscated and will be disposed of.

I wonder how many of those self-righteous people that raided his house and seized his materials have those swirly compact fluorescent light bulbs? Probably all of them, because I’m sure they’re all very concerned about the environment.

Although household CFL bulbs may legally be disposed of with regular trash (in most US states), they are categorized as household hazardous waste. As long as the waste is sent to a modern municipal landfill, the hazard to the environment is limited. However, CFLs should not be sent to an incinerator, which would disperse the mercury into the atmosphere.

For the safety of the community, I believe that those homes with toxic mercury-containing light bulbs should be raided and the CFLs seized. The mercury might end up in the home or water supply in the event of accidental breakage. Apparently if I were a Massachusetts official, I could do that.

Pamela A. Wilderman, Marlboro’s code enforcement officer, said Mr. Deeb was doing scientific research and development in a residential area, which is a violation of zoning laws.

“It is a residential home in a residential neighborhood,” she said. “This is Mr. Deeb’s hobby. He’s still got bunches of ideas. I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation. … There are regulations about how much you’re supposed to have, how it’s detained, how it’s disposed of.”

So now the city officials get to decide which hobbies are “appropriate” based on their feelings about the matter. Oh, mercy. Good thing that having a hobby wasn’t illegal when Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were pottering about in their (home) labs. If you raid somebody’s house and confiscate his property, you better know for sure that there is something illegal, not just because you think it might or should be.

Leather and wool hobbyists, better not call the fire department in the event of a fire if you live in Massachusetts! Yeppers, leather and wool dying materials are chemical and potentially hazardous. What about the potters? Glazes are also potentially hazardous. A peaceful-appearing house with nice people gardening in the front yard might actually be hiding a couple with a potter’s wheel, hundreds of glazes, and a kiln in the garage. Woodworkers, I know you have chemical stains and finishes that could potentially be dangerous in the hands of somebody like, oh, Massachusetts government officials. Gardeners might have chemical fertilizers. Better set up some SWAT raids for that.

“Science is important! Children are not getting enough science in schools! The U.S. is in danger of falling behind scientifically!” we hear periodically from various sources. Perhaps it is because committing science at home is illegal.

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