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Author: Subject: The Legal Pursuit of Chemistry?
amazingchemistry
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smile.gif posted on 2-5-2013 at 23:04
The Legal Pursuit of Chemistry?


Hello all, I have finally decided to make my first post because I have a rather big question to ask. What are the steps required to legally practice chemistry in the US? If this thread already exists somewhere, please feel free to direct me to it. What I specifically mean by this question is what kind of licenses or permits would I have to get to set up a lab? What are the costs (both in terms of money and time) associated with these licenses and permits? What specific safety, purchasing and storage regulations would I have to follow? What are the costs involved in following them? I know it varies from state to state, but, this being the Legal Issues forum, I think we should at least have some sort of state-by-state guide to pursuing chemistry legally. I would ask that no replies be made only saying "it's impossible" or something to that effect, as they contribute little to the discussion. Besides, at least in my neck of the woods (I live in CA) there are more than a couple small to mid-sized chemical companies (I happen to work for one) and they didn't just magically pop out of nothingness. They must have been able to start small somehow. I am not a business attorney, nor am I familiar with environmental and safety regulations, so I'm mostly in the dark about this. Perhaps some other members are familiar with such laws? A cursory internet search revealed that (at least in MA) there are proper application procedures that are relatively easy to find:

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/service/approvals/l...
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watson.fawkes
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 07:08


Quote: Originally posted by amazingchemistry  
What are the steps required to legally practice chemistry in the US?
Nothing. Just do chemistry.

Now if you're in business, hire employees, sell chemicals, etc. there are a whole lot of things to learn, but they are not about practicing chemistry, but being in business and being in a chemistry-oriented business. And if you want to manufacture regulated items like explosives or drugs there are another set of things to learn. None of these concerns, however, are about practicing chemistry itself.

Now that you have an answer, I will editorialize. Your question sucks. Your presuming that chemistry is tainted somehow, that even touching it means you have legal issues. Your question is that of a cowering serf, afraid to do anything before ensuring that you won't offend anybody. It's an attitude devoid of dignity. It smacks of cowardice. I don't want anything to do with it.

If you want to practice chemistry, then start practicing it.
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Prometheus23
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 07:25


First of all, if you really "didn't want anything to do with" his question you wouldn't be sitting there answering his question. Let alone continuing to talk about it further.

Second, you may not think it was a great question to start a thread for, but that's no reason to rail at the guy for being a worthless piece of crap.

It's his first post. it's just a question. Calm down.

[Edited on 5/3/2013 by Prometheus23]
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 09:23


I fully agree with Prometheus23! Why call someone a coward and saying that his question sucks? It is this kind of harshness which makes sciencemadness more and more a less pleasant place.

There is nothing wrong with the OP's question. There may be legal issues with practicing chemistry (e.g. think of the glass-laws in Texas) and it is completely understandable that someone wants to be sure (s)he does not do anything illegal. It is sad that this kind of fear exists nowadays, but it is a fact of life and will become more and more so in the near future.




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watson.fawkes
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 09:23


Quote: Originally posted by Prometheus23  
First of all, if you really "didn't want anything to do with" his question you wouldn't be sitting there answering his question. Let alone continuing to talk about it further.

Second, you may not think it was a great question to start a thread for, but that's no reason to rail at the guy for being a worthless piece of crap.

It's his first post. it's just a question. Calm down.
Well, you've made three assertions, and I disagree with all of them. First, I don't want anything to do with the attitude behind the question, which is what I said and which you misinterpreted. Second, I was railing at the attitude, not the person. Attitudes can change. Third, it's not "just a question", just as many jokes are not "just jokes". The attitude behind that question is noxious to me, just as overt racism behind some "jokes" is noxious.
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amazingchemistry
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 09:24


I will try to respond to your arguments civilly, as I'm sure you intended to respond to my question:

Quote: Originally posted by watson.fawkes  
Nothing. Just do chemistry.


If that were the case this particular forum would have a lot less threads. We wouldn't have threads full of people saying they are afraid of police raids, and of having their chemicals and equipment taken away. We wouldn't have threads full of people raging about this chemist or that chemist being raided. I don't mind complying with whatever laws I have to comply with (zoning, safety, etc) because I know those laws are there for a reason. For example, I wouldn't want some of the reactions I carry out at work to be carried out in a residential area, the risk of explosion and fire is too great, and I'm not willing to put other people's lives at risk. I wouldn't want first responders injured in the event of an emergency simply because they don't have any idea that I keep chemicals that react explosively with water. I wouldn't want my family to be exposed to noxious gases simply because something went wrong and the chemist down the hall doesn't have a hood to put his reaction under. As much as you'd like to think otherwise, the purpose of these laws is not just to mess with you. My problem is that I, not being a lawyer, have no idea what these laws are and so I cannot comply with them even if I'm willing to.


Quote: Originally posted by watson.fawkes  
Your presuming that chemistry is tainted somehow, that even touching it means you have legal issues.


I don't presume chemistry is tainted. On the contrary, I don't want to have to hide the fact that I practice chemistry as a hobby from my friends and neighbors and from society at large (as I know many on this forum do) simply because I'm afraid of a raid. This forum is correct in pointing out the rampant chemophobia present in both the general public and law enforcement. If I just have a bunch of chemicals in my basement the police can use excuses such as "you violated this or that zoning law, or this or that health law" to shut me down. I don't want to give them the chance to use those excuses. If that is possible (as I believe it is given that it is possible to start a small chemical company legally) then I think it'd do a great deal to restore chemistry's reputation with the general public as a respectable hobby and sever the irrational associations with meth cooks and bomb makers.

Quote: Originally posted by watson.fawkes  
If you want to practice chemistry, then start practicing it.


I practice chemistry everyday sir, both at school and at work. It is easy to just get a bunch of chemicals and start playing with them at home, but it takes patience and skill to find out how to turn those games into serious independent research which is what I want to do. Complying with the law is a necessary part of that process. I just wish this process wasn't so complicated and obscure, which was the main reason why I humbly came here to ask for your help in disentangling it. Instead you respond with ad hominem. I even wouldn't mind doing some small business on the side (say environmental analysis) in exchange for the peace of mind that comes from knowing I won't have my life's work destroyed and my reputation ruined in the middle of the night because of a "misunderstanding" and also in exchange for the benefits that come from having accounts with major chemical suppliers, instead of being forced to scavenge impure reactants off hardware store shelves. Your immature answer did nothing to advance this purpose.
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 10:49


I think the OP has posed a very interesting question, difficult to answer, and most likely varies with location and other circumstances. I have never seen any guidelines. I have heard of no US citizen who has gone directly to the authorities (DEA, EPA, local zoning authority, fire marshall, police, ect) and asked them this question.

I like to think that anything that is not specifically illegal, is legal. The way things are heading, however, someday soon it may very well be the opposite, ie, unless specifically stated as legal, it is illegal.

Because in the public's mind chemistry is so tainted by the illegal actions of bomb and drug activity that I have the feeling that LE takes the position that you are guilty until proven innocent. This puts the home chemist in a tough spot. Some day the home electronics hobbiest may find himself in the same position. Ie, building black boxes with wires coming out of them may well be regarded with the same fear and mistrust as sophisticated glassware is now.

So, when does making bicarbonate volcanoes, using cabbage for a pH measurement, and doing other sciencey things to educate your children become chemistry that would prompt a police raid?

If you are in full compliance with environmental, storage, and zoning laws then I would like to think that you could practice sophisticated chemistry at home. But I have no evidence to support that and don't intend to be a guinea pig to find out. I like my glassware and reputation in the community. I don't want them both ruined by misguided LE zealots.




The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
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amazingchemistry
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 11:05


Quote: Originally posted by Magpie  
If you are in full compliance with environmental, storage, and zoning laws...


Magpie, this I think is the meat of my question. I have absolutely no idea what the regulations are for the US, let alone my particular area. I'm sure CALEPA and CALOSHA among others have lots to say about the proper purchasing, handling, storage and disposal of various chemicals in my area, and I'd like to know what that is. I'd also like to know if any of it would apply to me personally, given that I intend to keep any reactions at the micro to semi-micro scale. Sadly, these agencies are not known for their customer-friendliness, and I'm sure I will not be able to find this out alone. This is why I asked this question.
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Prometheus23
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 11:33


Watson.fawkes you were railing at him and you know it. You did say his attitude was "devoid of dignity" and "smacks of cowardice". Not that attacking his attitude in this manner is appropriate either.

BUT you also said: "Your question is that of a cowering serf, afraid to do anything before ensuring that you won't offend anybody". Don't even try to pretend that your response was rational, warranted, or mature.

On the subject of the original post, I think the question is certainly far from irrelevant. Woelen and Magpie have brought up good points. If you really want to get your answer you could contact state or federal officials of some kind and see what they say. But that may end with anything from "I don't know sir you'll have to call someone else" to a friendly knock on the door a week later depending on who you call, what you say, how you say it, how old you sound, etc etc.

[Edited on 5/3/2013 by Prometheus23]
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 12:11


Wish I could be more helpful, but I've found that often there's no clear set of rules. For instance, about two months ago, I reached out to the DEA to seek clarity on whether a particular inhibitor with a benzo-structure was regulated by the CSA. The diversion investigator did not know, and was unable to provide any guidance. I have a feeling that any other state, federal, and municipal rules regulating the establishment of an amateur chemistry lab are just as vague.

Although it really irks the libertarian in me, I'd almost prefer an optional licensing scheme for practicing more advanced amateur chemistry, in the same way that you can apply for a ham-radio license from the FCC. A license would provide a simple, effective, legal defense and clarify what is and what is not permitted. At present, if you ask law enforcement what you can do, their default answer will likely be: "we're not sure, but we don't think it's permitted" . . . not very helpful for the curious amateur.

[Edited on 3-5-2013 by radagast]
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amazingchemistry
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[*] posted on 3-5-2013 at 17:20


Radagast,

I would also be on board with some sort of license, and any safety inspections that come with it. Putting myself in someone else's shoes for a second, I'd be very much relieved if I knew that the hobbyist next door was licensed. That way at least I'd know that he or she has apparently passed safety inspections, is qualified to do what he or she is doing and his or her pursuits are not a hazard to me or my family. Given that, I'd be far more inclined to ask him or her more about them and even let my kids learn a little from him or her.

Let's face it, chemistry and pyrotechnics are not in the same category of "hobbies" as say, stamp collecting or wood carving. They require more skill and discipline to explore, as well as a constant regard for your impact on the environment and the safety of those around you. If you live alone in the middle of nowhere, then yes, by all means damn the torpedoes and let's just start mixing chemicals together. For most of us that is not true however, and guidelines as to the proper purchasing, storing, handling and disposing of chemicals are in my opinion essential. Those must exist somewhere, as there are, like I have already said, small chemical companies that seem to conduct business just fine. If we as amateur chemists knew these guidelines and followed them conscientiously, not only would we be in much more solid legal footing in the event of a raid, but we might start reclaiming the rightful place of chemistry as a valid and admirable individual pursuit.

Like I said above, I wouldn't even mind getting a business license and conducting some business on the side in exchange for the benefits of being out of the 'gray area.' If such an effort turned out to be prohibitively expensive for an individual, then at least I'd know to try and find some like-minded partners to establish an amateur chemistry organization, with shared facilities of some sort. The problem is that I wouldn't even know where to start. I will finally add that in my opinion there is a gray area because there hasn't really been a concerted effort to seek clarification.
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