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BethanyHalford
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 10:43
Home labs and legal issues


I'm a reporter with Chemical & Engineering News, and I'm putting together a story about home laboratories.

After reading about Victor Deeb, the chemist in Massachusetts whose lab was recently shut down by the local authorities, I'm wondering, How does one set up a home lab without running afoul of the law?

What do you need to take into consideration in terms of the kinds of chemicals you can use, how you store them, and how you dispose of them? And since most laws seem to be local, how do you find this information?

In addition to replying here, feel free to call or email me.

Thanks for your help,

Bethany Halford
Associate Editor
Chemical & Engineering News
732-906-8302
b_halford@acs.org
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 11:40


Quote:
Originally posted by BethanyHalford
I'm a reporter with Chemical & Engineering News, and I'm putting together a story about home laboratories.

After reading about Victor Deeb, the chemist in Massachusetts whose lab was recently shut down by the local authorities, I'm wondering, How does one set up a home lab without running afoul of the law?

What do you need to take into consideration in terms of the kinds of chemicals you can use, how you store them, and how you dispose of them? And since most laws seem to be local, how do you find this information?

In addition to replying here, feel free to call or email me.

Thanks for your help,

Bethany Halford
Associate Editor
Chemical & Engineering News
732-906-8302
b_halford@acs.org


What makes you think having a home lab is against the law?

Joe
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BethanyHalford
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 11:51


I don't think it's against the law to have a lab in your home, but I spoke to a lawyer today who told me that there are regulations regarding amounts of hazardous materials, chemical storage, and disposal.

Is this not the case?

Also, in Mr. Deeb's case, there's been a preliminary injuction preventing him from operating a lab in his home. You can read about it here.

I guess I'm wondering how does one figure out what's OK to do in a home lab, and what is going to have a hazmat team at your door?
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 14:50


Quote:

I guess I'm wondering how does one figure out what's OK to do in a home lab, and what is going to have a hazmat team at your door?


Hello Bethany,

That's a good question. In my opinion you will be just fine experimenting with consumer products in their original containers (ie, vinegar, baking soda, root killer, drain cleaner, laundry bleach, etc) as long as there is no glassware involved. Once you get beyond that, law enforcement tends to view every lab as a meth lab.

Worst case scenario (has happened, as you have found out): Once they get a warrant they potentially will call in the SWAT team and hazmat team, seize your "lab", your computer, and other records, and put you through a living hell until it is sorted out in court. Meantime they have damaged your property and your reputation. If it turns out you are innocent and they are wrong,"... oh well, these things happen." You may not even get an apology, and most surely no compensation for damages, physical and mental. It is just another day at the office for LE.

Bethany, I hope you can sort out the facts on this trampling of our freedoms. This kind of thing really puts the damper on the activity of anyone interested in home chemistry. It's not the kind of nurturing we should be giving our scientists and does not bode well for the future of the US as a leader in science.

I'm looking forward to reading your article in Chemical & Engineering News. Best wishes.
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 16:29


Most chemists had labs in their homes in the past. With the plethora of regs today one risks having everybody from the fire marshall to the DEA raiding his house. There are so many laws in the US you're almost guarenteed to be in violation of several at any given time. I had one but always felt nervous about it. Now I confine my lab work to the business premises. As far as waste is concerned I'm a CEG (conditionally exempt small quantity generator) and can go to the disposal site one day a week and file a form.



"When you let the dumbasses vote you end up with populism followed by autocracy and getting back is a bitch." Plato (sort of)
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 17:39


Hello Bethany!

Quote:
Originally posted by BethanyHalford
How does one set up a home lab without running afoul of the law?

What do you need to take into consideration in terms of the kinds of chemicals you can use, how you store them, and how you dispose of them?


For the practice of basement chemistry, best would be to live in an area zoned as 'industrial' that also allows for residential facilities, eg factory workers often live near their workplace ('best for what' is arguable, you probably wouldn't want to live in that area).

As to disposal: just have a set of different tanks for your waste. You do not really need to dispose of it (unless you handle large amounts of chemicals, which would rapidly fill them), they just better be there in case of inspection. Some cities have public tanks where you can throw your dangerous waste for 'free' (you pay for it with tax money anyway).

Most of the common organic solvents pollute less than gasoline when burned; that could be an alternative. Inorganic solutions can just be concentrated and dried up. Heavy metals should be recovered (often expensive to buy), eg by precipitating them with 'light' metals, Al foil, etc. Halogenated organic liquids are trickier; evaporating them wouldn't be healthful and environmentally friendly. How are they disposed of industrially?

As far as I know, home chemists are wary of the legislation, as they widely believe it is written mainly by scientifically challenged safety-obsessed apes, who know little to nothing about the legitimate uses of chemicals but nevertheless set out to destroy any kind of individual experimentation with the self-righteous rage of publicly appointed gorillas, without regard to the actual dangers involved and the possible consequences for the economy and the future of research, for fear of a vague, often imaginary threat against the 'normals', those herd-following sheeple who see evil in everything that is not institutional or corporate or sanctioned by the mainstram media.

That said, I believe most adult amateur chemists act according to a personal moral code respectful of the fellow citizen and of the environment even without knowing the explicit word of the local law. They are better able to weigh the risks involved in and the safety measures required by a specific chemical or experiment than ivory-tower, bill-signing bureaucrats or doughnut-munchin', badge-wavin' neonazis. Of course, my intent is not to generalize to any professional category necessary in a democratic country the behavior of a minority, despite these usually constitute the most striking example of the misguided waste of public funds.

It is often so, that home chemists care about their own and their loved ones' life and health and try to implement several measures (fume hoods, chemical cabinets, safety locks, avoiding the nasties and the drugsies) they see fit. Clearly, due to the (fortunate) lack of oversight in this private setting, these measures are sometimes incomplete or inefficient, but the comparison is often made with the past decades, where inventors worked individually, often in their own home, with much less information about chemical dangers than today, but nevertheless came up with welcomed novelties that unforeseeably improved our lives and contributed to civilization, paradoxically to the point where we feel we need to protect ourselves from any learnful disaster, any change of the status quo, any improvement.

jarynth@gmx.com

[Edited on 10-10-2008 by jarynth]
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 19:02


Quote:
And since most laws seem to be local, how do you find this information?



I think it important to remember that these relatively new repressive regulations affect many areas of the world.
In Western Australia where I reside they recently passed(2004) legislation making possession of basic glassware & equipment(condensers,RBF,heating mantles etc) a crime
punishable by up to 5 years incarceration.Amazingly, sellers of these items are under no obligation to disclose the criminal nature of possession of these forbidden objects(they are however required to sight ID and report to police within 24 hours.)
And bad luck to you if you have spent years and thousands of dollars on your lab.Nobody's interested in this geeky stuff,you must be a meth cook.

[Edited on 10-10-2008 by starman]
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[*] posted on 10-10-2008 at 19:03


Bethany,
Please do not misconstrue the wariness of home chemists as signs of guilt or illegality, as is easily done. I feel that there is nothing most of us would enjoy more than being able to share our pastime with the community at large if it wasn't for the persecution already discussed.
If it were not for forums such as these there would be little to no communication between those of us with an ilk as this, and as such it is guarded preciously.

I cannot add to your story as i'm not from the USA, however feel free to mention you found me interesting and engaging, nice and cooperative, a general all round great guy.
:D




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[*] posted on 11-10-2008 at 00:59


Quote:
Originally posted by BethanyHalford
I don't think it's against the law to have a lab in your home, but I spoke to a lawyer today who told me that there are regulations regarding amounts of hazardous materials, chemical storage, and disposal.

Is this not the case?

I think in most EU countries (in mine for sure) there are regulations that efficiently make it completely impossible to legally have a chem lab at home. An individual can buy much chemicals and glassware legally, that is not the real problem. The problem is elsewhere. For example, you need a special licence to store chemicals at home. To obtain this licence as an individual is impossible, since you can not store chemicals in a residential area (not even small and innocuous quantities used by amateurs), your storage facility need to fulfil a lot of very expensive safety requirements. And needless to say that if an individual would ask for such permit, his house would be raided by the police and all his chemistry set confiscated "for analysis" (and I'm talking about places where there is no meth&terrorist propaganda!). The good thing about it is that if you get raided by the police you don't end up in prison - you just pay those approximately 10 thousand EUR for breaking the regulations and loose all your chemistry related property as it gets confiscated. So if you have an annoying neighbour that hates you, you might get in big financial troubles and labelled as criminal in the newspapers.

[Edited on 11/10/2008 by Nicodem]




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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 11:00


Regulatory oppression by nanny state bureaucrats is always going to be an aggravation for "townies". One means of greatly reducing such aggravation is to move to a country estate in an unincorporated area , preferably having a moat and a drawbridge to discourage unwelcome
visitors, a real bonus being that no licenses are needed either to be purchased for hunting and fishing on ones own land:P So long as there is no overtly obvious criminal activity as would be noticed from a distance and trouble
the authorities sufficiently to bring them calling, then they seem content enough to collect their taxes and leave such
country folks alone. Being left alone is a fundamental constitutional right and perhaps the most precious one of all. That right will never be allowed in cities because of the close proximity of neighbors bringing territorial crowding which brings restrictions on behavior in many ways and "code enforcement" headaches for anyone doing anything out of the ordinary, which really doesn't even need specificity but may be arbitrarily designated as a "public nuisance" which simply is anything whatsoever that the neighbors or regulators don't like. Living in town you will have to walk their walk and not step out of line and if you find that too constraining, then leave town and move to the country. Everybody should just be aware that this is the way it has always been and always will be.
Your best remedy for a problem getting along with other people is putting more distance between yourself and
"them". The further away from the city you get, generally
the more freedom and privacy you will have but of course
you must be agreeable to the greater solitude as well
the further travel to merchants and other metropolitan
services. One should live where they and their pursuits
are welcome , but you can't change the geography, so
when you encounter trouble, you change your place on it.
It is parallel to the problem that amateur astronomy has with "light pollution" from excessively lighted and omnidirectional "security lighted" areas , which is an
absolute futility trying to change . They *won't* change,
no matter how stupid, so when you look for a place
where you can see the stars at night, plan on taking a drive out into the country.
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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 13:07


Define chem lab. Why is someone with an interest in chemistry and a few liters of flammable solvent, appropriately labeled, and some acids, also appropriately labeled, different from joe sixpack with two gallons of gas in his basement next to the bottle of drain opener and pool chlorinator?

There is quite some hypocrisy in all this. I wonder if the average person knows that their filled gas tank contains more than a liter of benzene, something the authorities would probably have fined Mr. Deeb for, had they found it in his basement.

You'll also be interested in this wired article, which deals with the same issue and also contains a statement from this site's founder, Matthew Ernst:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/chemistry_pr.html

[Edited on 13-10-2008 by vulture]
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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 13:29


I think Bethany should also take a look at the following thread, which describes the efforts of author Robert Bruce Thompson to assist home chemists:

http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=7629&a...
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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 14:17


Hmmmm....If I were Mr. Deeb, this is the song I'd be singing.....on the road. And the local yocals could count
my missing tax money while I vote with my feet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=the0mpVmH7I
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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 15:26


Quote:
Originally posted by Nicodem
Quote:
Originally posted by BethanyHalford
I don't think it's against the law to have a lab in your home, but I spoke to a lawyer today who told me that there are regulations regarding amounts of hazardous materials, chemical storage, and disposal.

Is this not the case?

I think in most EU countries (in mine for sure) there are regulations that efficiently make it completely impossible to legally have a chem lab at home. An individual can buy much chemicals and glassware legally, that is not the real problem. The problem is elsewhere. For example, you need a special licence to store chemicals at home. To obtain this licence as an individual is impossible, since you can not store chemicals in a residential area (not even small and innocuous quantities used by amateurs), your storage facility need to fulfil a lot of very expensive safety requirements. And needless to say that if an individual would ask for such permit, his house would be raided by the police and all his chemistry set confiscated "for analysis" (and I'm talking about places where there is no meth&terrorist propaganda!). The good thing about it is that if you get raided by the police you don't end up in prison - you just pay those approximately 10 thousand EUR for breaking the regulations and loose all your chemistry related property as it gets confiscated. So if you have an annoying neighbour that hates you, you might get in big financial troubles and labelled as criminal in the newspapers.

[Edited on 11/10/2008 by Nicodem]

So that means that the neighnour having 25 liters of gasoline in his garage, together with 25kilo of KNO3 fertilizer does not need this regulation? Can they really harm you when you have less then 10 liter of flammable solvent (I have 5-6L), about 5 liter acid, 2Kg oxidiser, 1Kg toxic metal salts and other toxins ? And then ofcourse a lot of nonhazardous materials? I think s long as you don'y have large quantities you should be fine. Having gallons of solvents, you deserve (in my opinion) to have a 10000 dollar fine.
And what if you buy a safety cabinet for flammable solvents, a officially approved one? Are you still illegal, if at all without the cabinet?
My father will give me a present for my exams of about 800 eur (yes very lucky!) and I'm thinking of buying a safety cabinet for flammables and other stuff. But if I'm illegal anyway, without it or with it, I won't buy it.
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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 19:20


Quote:
Originally posted by Jor

So that means that the neighnour having 25 liters of gasoline in his garage, together with 25kilo of KNO3 fertilizer does not need this regulation? Can they really harm you when you have less then 10 liter of flammable solvent (I have 5-6L), about 5 liter acid, 2Kg oxidiser, 1Kg toxic metal salts and other toxins ? And then ofcourse a lot of nonhazardous materials? I think s long as you don'y have large quantities you should be fine. Having gallons of solvents, you deserve (in my opinion) to have a 10000 dollar fine.
And what if you buy a safety cabinet for flammable solvents, a officially approved one? Are you still illegal, if at all without the cabinet?
My father will give me a present for my exams of about 800 eur (yes very lucky!) and I'm thinking of buying a safety cabinet for flammables and other stuff. But if I'm illegal anyway, without it or with it, I won't buy it.


Huh? Flammable solvents such as hydrocarbons you mean? Pentane, and higher alkanes, and also substituted and unsubstituted benzenes? Would you want these fines to only apply when the solvents are in nice labelled reagent bottles, but not when mixed together in dozen gallon tanks for use as fuel?

In the end, we are not dealing with scientists making rational rules. We are dealing with politicians and their lackeys who don't know chemistry making regulations to appease more morons.

The term 'hazardous material' is again a function of the bottle. What was origionally 'household product' becomes 'highly hazardous corrosive material' when the sulfuric acid goes from the drain-opener bottle to the reagent bottle.

Home labs can be safer than industrial or academic due to the fact that one person is responsible for everything from the actual chemistry, to the storage and safe disposal procedures, and the fact that the chemist's family may share the house with the lab, so the chemist has a moral obligation to the safe operation of said lab. In industial labs everything is micromanaged and the right hand does not know what the left is doing, I have seen this myself where a leaky(arsenic containing) reagent bottle in chemical stores was unmoved for years because the store operator 'was not the disposal guy' and as such accidents or hazards can always be blamed on someone else. In the home lab the chemist knows his and his family's safety depends on his actions, so he is much more careful.

Bethany, I think you are as confused as many home chemists are, I don't think the laws are clear to anyone. Most home chemists just do what they love as safely as possible, and not break any laws intentionally.

Goodyear vulcanized rubber on his stove
Hall invented electrolytic aluminum production in his backyard
Perkin discovered mauvine dye at home
Not things that could happen today if increasing regulation restricts chemicals and lab equipment to academia and industry.

Increasing regulations are hurting science education in general. Where once kids would be taught at school with flashy demonstrations and their chemistry sets would contain more than using glue and borax to make slime(and of course like the one I saw the other day, declaring in bold letters "no hazardous chemicals, no glass parts, no open flames"...), They now mix baking soda and vinegar or prepare dozens of white precipitates and expect that to spark a future generation of chemists. If one expects their country to be competitive in chemistry and science, you need to spark the minds of kids to think science has something to offer, and that is not going to happen if regulations take the fun out of science.

[Edited on 13-10-08 by The_Davster]




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[*] posted on 13-10-2008 at 20:51


No, I mean that people soring gallons of fuel should have a fine as well, and then I'm really talking about 10+ gallons. I think no normal person needs that much, and no home experimenter uses that much solvent.
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[*] posted on 15-10-2008 at 00:18


These regulations are not meant to be for fire safety and such. They are meant for preventing people from "playing" with chemicals at home and as such the pertaining regulations need not to be rational. In other words, someone having a propane bomb or other such hazardous household chemical is not the target of such a regulation and thus does not need to have a licence. If however you buy toluene from the hardware shop and transfer it in a reagent bottle, then it is like admitting you want to use it as solvent for your chemistry hobby - in which case you need a licence to store that bottle or else you break the regulation about chemicals storage. Given the situation, I don't think a safety cabinet for flammable solvents would make much of a difference, but at least you would have the argument of safety in your defence. Unfortunately this is considered a rational argument and thus again out of the scope of such regulations. That is what I meant when I said that it is an impossible situation. But then again regulations might vary widely from country to country. I advise you to read the one pertaining to yours. It should be available in PDF from the net at your local government agency for chemicals.



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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 05:12


Bethany,
When I was a teenager I had a garage lab that grew from a chemistry set given to me when I was nine years old (1965). Today I am a research chemist and member of the ACS who does some work at home in my garage. Since I am a professional I know the rules and regulations pertaining to chemical and lab safety. So I use these rules in my home lab. The local codes in my town do not address personal hobbies unless it becomes a business such as arts and crafts, auto mechanics etc. I own my home so i don't have lease issues to deal with. However that does not mean I don't fear my local or state government from siezing my notebooks, samples or equipment. Simply stated the public is ignorant to what chemistry is. For a long time chemistry has been looked upon with a negative connotation. Especially today when home labs are automatically thought of as bomb or meth labs. And the media reinforces these beliefs. This is a situation where you are guilty before you are found innocent.

Chemistry is now a pollitically incorrect science since it produces "dangerous waste" that no one wants transported through their neighborhood. High schools don't teach chemistry the way it used to be due to the possible litigation the school may face in the event of an accident. Even though a student has a higher chance of an injury in gym or wood shop. Governments today take away our personal responsibility by thinking for us. We all suffer from the actions of irresponsible home chemists and criminals instead of governments focusing on the bad apples.

The ACS has lobbyists that can help the government and media understand the importance of the amateur experimenter and where these people do their work. After all the inventor of liquid paper was, if I recall, a Texas stay at home mom. Also there needs to be more effort placed on improving the quality of chemical education in schools. Fear of chemistry needs to be repaced with respect for chemistry as it was when I was in high school.
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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 10:00


All the rules, regulations, and other assorted governmental red tape is nothing but a bunch of unecessary expensive bullshit in my opinion.

I say run your lab like a good meth cook and be done with it. Most meth labs get busted because of odors, fires, explosions, and narcs. That means keep your lab out of sight from everyone, mind your odors, dispose of wastes properly, and try and maintain good chemical hygiene. Try and keep the bulk of your reagents and glassware stored off site in case of raids so there will be less for the governement to seize. And most importantly, try and exercise some good common sense.

Other than that have fun.

[Edited on 20-10-2008 by evil_lurker]




Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.
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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 16:31


Quote:

After all the inventor of liquid paper was, if I recall, a Texas stay at home mom.

I believe that was Mike Nesmith (of 60's group The Monkees fame) mom.

@Prochem good to hear from a working scientist on this.

Recently in Australia a TV science program called Catalyst sponsored prizes in recognition of oustanding contributions of amatuers to science.
Featured were an amateur astronomer(working on a globally coordinated scheme with NASA) and a hobby paleontologist
who stumbled across a new species.
As I was wathcing this this I thought "well one thing for sure we ain't going to see any chemistry"
Amatuer chemists can make many genuine contributions paticularly in areas like natural products chemistry and preparative column chromatography.Where a professional looks at GCMS NMR etc and knows exactly what components in what percentage are in a sample,there still remain the tedium of exactly determinig optimum elutents and adsorbents etc for an effective separation.What a proffessional finds tedious an amatuer might find fascinating(I do).
By all means target the meth & bomb people.But I find it difficult to comprehend the rationale that make possession of a flask illegal (it is an empty glass bottle for goodness sake) while still permitting OTC sales of pseudoepherdine and friends.
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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 17:25


Quote:
Originally posted by starman
I believe that was Mike Nesmith (of 60's group The Monkees fame) mom.
Yep. Here's the Snopes item.
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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 17:46


I think Bethany needs to be sent a reminder that she should keep checking back on this thread- she hasn't since she created it. Otherwise all subsequent discussion since is pretty irrelevant other than venting your feelings.



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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 18:03


She has definitely been logged on and reading something here since she posted the topic because I have noticed her online status at times, but it has been a few days.
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[*] posted on 20-10-2008 at 23:02


Oder out of state, every state has different laws on glassware and chemicals. Buy OTC chemicals and purify and label them in LD polyethelyne containers. Have knowledge what you can throw down the sink and everything else put into bottle and label as wastes with specifics and drop off at the fire department.



\"Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind.\" - Katha Upanishad
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[*] posted on 21-10-2008 at 05:35


chemoleo and Rosco Bodine,

I'm still here, checking in frequently although I'm not always logged in.

I appreciate all the feedback I've gotten so far.

I'd be curious to know if anyone approached their local authorities to find out what the laws are where they live.

I've been making a lot of calls to federal, state, and local authorities, and I have to say that in the few cases where there are laws (usually on a local level), they're pretty vague.
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