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Pharmacology Professor Dumped Highly Flammable Material Down the Drain

August 28, 2007

DANIEL R. STORM, 62, of Seattle, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to three years of probation, 80 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine for a felony violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Knowingly Disposing of Hazardous Waste without a Permit. STORM, a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Washington admitted last March that in June 2006, he dumped containers of highly flammable ethyl ether down a sink in his lab. The illegal disposal of ethyl ether created a significant risk of explosion or fire. At sentencing STORM told U.S. District Judge James L. Roabart, “I am personally and professionally embarrassed and ashamed.”

According to the plea agreement in early June 2006, the University of Washington Environmental Health and Safety Department conducted a survey of STORM’s lab. The inspectors determined that three metal containers of ethyl ether and two glass bottles containing a mixture of ethyl ether and water needed to be disposed. The Environmental Health and Safety Department informed STORM that the cost of disposal would be $15,000. STORM thought that cost was too high and did not want to pay the fee from his laboratory operations account.

On June 25, 2006, STORM used an axe to break open the metal containers and dumped the ethyl ether down a sink in his laboratory. Using an axe to break open the metal containers was very risky, because of the possibility of a spark which could have ignited the ethyl ether fumes. STORM also poured the glass bottles of ethyl ether and water down the sink, and ran the taps in an effort to dilute the flammable material. STORM poured an ethanol solution down the drain to flush out any remaining explosive material. STORM subsequently attempted to conceal the illegal discharge.

While acknowledging that STORM took steps to guard against an explosion, prosecutors said STORM deliberately ignored directives on the waste disposal. “His refusal to follow those directives could have caused extensive property damage and personal injury. An explosion or fire within a laboratory building housing scores of similar chemicals would have been catastrophic,” Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle wrote in his sentencing memo. Prosecutors asked that STORM do his community service in an area with a connection to hazardous waste disposal. One opportunity might be with the City of Seattle’s Reuse Store, where citizens can bring household goods for disposal.

One-half of STORM’s $5,000 fine will go to the Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund, under the auspices of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The fund is used to promote programs and activities to improve the health of Puget Sound. Portions of criminal fines in environmental cases have been paid into the fund since it was established in 2006.

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID) and the University of Washington Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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