Musk’s brain implant company violated US hazardous materials transportation rules – documents
Written by Marissa Taylor
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink has been fined for violating U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rules regarding the movement of hazardous materials, according to records from the federal agency reviewed by Reuters.
During inspections of the company’s facilities in Texas and California in February 2023, DOT investigators found that the company had failed to register itself as a hazardous materials carrier, agency records show.
They also found inappropriate containers for hazardous waste, including flammable liquid xylene. Xylene can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, loss of muscle coordination and even death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Department of Transportation fined the company a total of $2,480, a smaller amount than initially assessed because the company agreed to fix the problems, records show.
A spokesman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Department of Transportation agency that investigated Neuralink, confirmed the violations and the fine, and said the investigation is now closed.
Neuralink did not respond to questions.
Reuters reviewed records detailing violations from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an advocacy group that opposes the use of animals in medical research. PCRM obtained the documents through an open records request.
The records do not explain why Neuralink needed to transport hazardous materials or whether any damage resulted from the violations.
Neuralink received FDA approval last year to conduct its first trial to test the company’s implant in humans, marking a critical milestone for the startup. Reuters reported in June that the company was valued at up to $5 billion, based on private equity trades.
Neuralink announced last September that the trial would evaluate the safety of its implant to enable people with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts.
During the study, the company-developed robot will surgically place the implants’ “ultra-fine” threads that help transmit signals to participants’ brains, the company said.
The Department of Transportation investigation was launched last year after Reuters reported that Neuralink employees filed internal complaints about expediting animal testing, causing needless suffering and deaths.
“Neuralink’s breaches once again expose the company’s unsafe practices,” said Ryan Merkley, director of research support at PCRM.
PCRM wrote to DOT last year to say that Neuralink in 2019 may have transported brain implants used in its monkey experiments without taking proper containment measures. The group said the implants may have been contaminated with antibiotic-resistant staphylococci and herpes B virus.
The Transportation Department found no evidence that Neuralink had shipped anything containing infectious material, the new records reviewed by Reuters said.
(Reporting by Marissa Taylor; Editing by Michelle Gershberg and Bill Berkrot)