The Maryland Department of the Environment has fined the owner of a South Baltimore warehouse $25,000 for improperly storing leaking barrels of hazardous waste, officials said yesterday.
In an administrative complaint, the MDE cited the owner for improperly storing the waste, which the state identified as "corrosive." In addition, state investigators found chromium and cadmium in the barrels at levels that constituted hazardous waste, they said.
Warehouse owner Edward L. Birtic, 73, of Carroll County had 11 barrels of the corrosive chemicals removed from the building in early June after being pressed by the city to do so. At the time, the material in the barrels was identified as paint, paint thinner and hydrochloric acid.
The attorney general's Environmental Crimes Unit is continuing its criminal probe of Birtic's handling of the material, stored in unlabeled barrels, officials said.
The warehouse, at 1700 Clarkson St., is attached to rowhouses, and residents in the area said the chemicals were making them sick.
Birtic could negotiate the fine with the MDE or appeal it to the state's Office of Administrative Hearings, officials said.
Birtic's lawyer, Clifford L. Hardwick, said he and his client have yet to decide what to do.
"We are exploring our opportunities," Hardwick said.
If Birtic appeals the fine, imposed Monday, the administrative law judge has the option to raise or lower the fine, state officials said. The maximum fine for a civil violation of the state's environmental laws is $100,000.
"Did he know the law? Yes. He received a site complaint Dec. 23," said Rick Collins, director of MDE's Waste Management Administration. "He had several opportunities to correct the situation in a cleaner way, and he didn't."
Collins said the fine is "slightly higher" than it would have been had Birtic corrected the problem earlier.
In May, Birtic was issued a second site complaint ordering a clean-up after emergency response crews were dispatched to the warehouse to stabilize the leaking drums. They were responding to neighborhood complaints about the warehouse and the handling of chemicals stored there.
"People live here," said Rob Riley, who lives in a house that is attached to the warehouse. "That fine should be a lot more."
The administrative complaint and fine are separate from the attorney general's criminal investigation.
Residents complain of breathing problems, skin irritations and headaches that they say result from chemicals stored in the warehouse.
City and state agencies have told the community that areas in and around the building now pose little or no threat.
The state took and tested soil samples from the site and found low levels of methyl ethyl ketone, a substance used in paint thinner and glues.
Collins said there were not enough contaminants in the soil to pose a health hazard to the community.
In June, the city declared the warehouse a "public health emergency" in an effort to get the chemicals removed. That was hours after 11 South Baltimore residents were taken to area hospitals for possible chemical exposure.
The city has spent at least $56,000 related to the warehouse problems.
Included in that amount are the costs of sending fire and hazardous-materials equipment to the site, dispatching Public Works crews to board up the building, and erecting a fence around the property.