UNH Grad Student’s Chemical Hobby Leads To Criminal Charges

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Durham police photo

Emad Mustafa


The man who made himself sick mixing unstable chemicals in his Durham apartment seems to be a victim of his own recreational interests, according to Assistant Strafford County Attorney Joachim Barth.

“He appears to be a hobbyist,” Barth said. 

Emad Mustafa, 29, is now facing felony charges of reckless conduct and improper disposal of hazardous waste after investigators searched his Oyster River Road apartment this week.

Barth said Mustafa was mixing material like mercury, highly flammable dimethyl sulfide, sodium iodate, and sodium metal, which is known to cause chemical burns when touched. Barth called the sodium metal highly unstable.

Exactly why Mustafa was mixing these chemicals, and to what ends, remains unclear.

 Barth characterized Mustafa’s goals as benign.

“I don’t believe he had a focus on a nefarious intent,” Barth said.

Barth has stressed there is no ongoing danger to the public as a result of Mustafa’s hobby. He declined to comment on where Mustafa was getting his chemicals and other equipment.

Mustafa was taken to the hospital on May 13 after he called 911 to report he may have been exposed to a toxic chemical. Mustafa was treated at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and released the same day. However, first responders noticed something alarming during that call, and an investigation into Mustafa’s hobby kicked off.

On Tuesday, Durham Police Department, Durham Fire Department, the University of New Hampshire Police Department, New Hampshire State Police, federal partners, and the Seacoast Technical Assistance Response Team (START), and the Southeastern New Hampshire Hazardous Material Mutual Aid District were on hand when a search warrant was executed at Mustafa’s residence and placed him under arrest.

Documents related to the case were not available on Wednesday. 

Mustafa lives in a first-floor apartment in a home shared with another tenant who has a basement apartment, and the homeowner who lives in the main house, Barth said. None of the other residents reported getting ill due to Mustafa’s chemical hobby.

Mustafa faces three and a half to seven years in prison on each of the class B felonies. He is due next month to be arranged in Strafford District Court. 

Mustafa is studying physics and is currently a Ph.D. student at UNH where he works on polarized targets. Polarized target systems are high energy devices used to observe the spin rate of protons and neutrons.

 Such devices use substances like helium and liquid nitrogen in refrigerated cases that include generated magnetic fields and lasers. 

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