Monday, August 18, 2008

Who needs laws when you just know someone 'crossed a line'?

In Marlboro, Massachusetts, a retired chemist named Victor Deeb had the misfortune to call the fire department when his air conditioner burst into flames. I say "misfortune" because, when the authorities arrived, they discovered that, not surprisingly, a chemist keeps a chemistry laboratory in his home. And they freaked.

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.”

There probably are regulations about keeping and disposing of chemicals -- there are rules about almost everything these days. But Ms. Wilderman cites not a single violation other than petty zoning infractions, and Mr. Deeb has been charged with no crime. If Ms. Wilderman is somewhat unfamiliar with the regulations, she might want to consult Mr. Deeb, who has patents pending and is likely more familar with the applicable rules for keeping and disposing of chemicals than are the city's employees.

For now, Mr. Deeb is reportedly happy to be able to return home, after being forced from his dwelling for three days while the authorities trucked off his laboratory equipment and supplies for disposal -- presumably without compensation. Actually, the disposal process might pose a real risk, since Mr. Deeb has proven himself capable of handling the chemicals without mishap while the authorites are an unknown quantity. Fortunately, there was nothing especially hazardous among supplies to excite concern.

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.

"No more dangerous than typical household cleaning products"? Uh huh. And no citations for regulatory infractions. So Ms. Wilderman and company are protecting the people from nonexistent risks by enforcing rules that may or may not have been violated, if officials can ever figure them out. Yeah. Somebody "crossed a line somewhere," but it wasn't Mr. Deeb.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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