Warehouse chemicals `hazardous'

Environment department yet to identify substances in S. Baltimore building

May 31, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Chemicals stored in a South Baltimore warehouse owned by a Carroll County man are "hazardous" and "corrosive," according to test results released yesterday by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The department has not identified the chemicals, but it said they are so acidic that they ate through metal drums. The chemicals leaked onto the floor and out a door of the warehouse to an area where children often play.

Investigators also found asbestos-laden ceiling tiles in a heap outside the building, which is at Clarkson and Heath streets.

The owner of the warehouse, Edward Louis Birtic, of Finksburg, could not be reached for comment last night.

Hours after the information was made public, angry residents gathered at Thomas Johnson Elementary School, demanding to know what chemicals are in the warehouse, which shares a wall with a block of homes in the 1700 block of Clarkson St.

"They've had two weeks, and as a community we know nothing except it's bad enough to eat through a container," said Angela Ireland, who lives on Clarkson Street and whose son worked in the nearly vacant warehouse in January. "They had my son working in it. How long will it take until we get some information? Until my son is dead?"

The MDE said it has to wait for more test results.

"We know it's a hazardous material, but we haven't done a complete analysis," said MDE spokesman Richard McIntire.

Birtic is the target of a criminal probe by state investigators for possible environmental violations stemming from the handling and storage of the material in two warehouses.

The MDE has issued two complaints against Birtic in the past two weeks, ordering him to identify and dispose of drums of chemicals stored at the Clarkson Street warehouse and another in Southwest Baltimore. The second building, at 625 S. Smallwood St., is also headquarters for his company, Better Buildings Inc.

Residents in South Baltimore say Birtic had paid neighborhood children and young adults $10 to $60 a day to clean trash and remove chemical drums from the Clarkson Street building.

Several said they felt sick after the work. They also said that people in the neighborhood have developed breathing problems, headaches and stomach pains in recent years.

The city health department sent a medical crew to the neighborhood last week to survey residents worried about exposure to the chemicals. The results are not in, said Pamela Somers, assistant director of field health services for the health department, who was at last night's meeting.

Reggie Scriber, a city housing official, told the crowd of about 40 residents that he would examine the building today and have it boarded up. He also said the building was found years ago to be vacant and that the owner was told then to raze it or rehabilitate it.

"We weren't conscious of the environmental issues in the building at the time it was cited," Scriber said.

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