Residents wary of cleanup effort

Officials say area is safe, but neighbors suspect problems

June 10, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Residents who live near a South Baltimore warehouse that recently housed oozing drums of hazardous chemicals still fear for their safety - despite assurances from state and city agencies that areas in and around the building pose little or no threat to their health.

The city Fire Department's hazardous materials team again was called to the site, at 1700 Clarkson St., yesterday afternoon, responding to calls from residents that there was a smelly, gooey substance on the roof.

They tested the roof and adjacent alley, and found nothing out of the ordinary, said Fire Lt. James Bryant.

"There are no readings that give cause for alarm," Bryant said. "This is very much routine."

Deborah Boyd, whose house is attached to the warehouse, said she smelled a strong odor and saw "black and green stuff" dripping off the roof earlier this week.

"We want to know what that stuff is," Boyd said. "We don't know if it's safe for us and our kids to breathe it."

Neighbors believe they are getting sick from chemicals that were stored and dumped there and have been asking city and state officials to clean up the site.

Warehouse owner Edward Louis Birtic, who lives in Finksburg, said yesterday, "I have no comment at all."

Birtic is being investigated by the attorney general's office for possible environmental violations because of the handling and storage of unidentified chemicals at the warehouse and another in Southwest Baltimore.

The Maryland Department of the Environment tested the soil around the warehouse last week after one of its workers suffered a physical reaction when he touched the soil. The samples showed low levels of methyl ethyl ketone, a substance used in paint thinner and glues, as well as traces of "typical contaminants you'd find along a railroad line," said Richard Collins, director of MDE's Waste Management Administration. The warehouse is next to a set of train tracks.

Collins said there were not enough contaminants in the soil to pose a threat to neighbors.

Last week, 11 residents were taken to hospitals and treated for possible chemical exposure after neighbors' 911 calls brought emergency personnel to the area.

Later that week, 11 barrels of hazardous chemicals were removed from the site after Birtic yielded to pressure from city and state officials to get rid of them.

According to information Birtic gave to the waste hauler, the drums contained hydrochloric acid and paint waste. MDE tested samples from the barrels and is awaiting results, expected next week. Officials said one the substances was methyl ethyl ketone, among 45 other unidentified compounds in the chemical samples.

Residents say Birtic paid neighborhood children and adults $10 to $60 a day to clean trash and remove corroded chemical drums from the warehouse. Several said they developed skin irritations, breathing problems, headaches and stomach pains after the work.

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