By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun
9:56 PM EDT, April 23, 2012
With a Canton warehouse fire reduced to a smolder by Monday morning, attention shifted to ensuring that surrounding homes and the harbor's waters are protected from caustic chemicals inside the facility.
State and federal environmental officials were on the site alongside firefighters into Monday evening, monitoring water streaming from the one-story brick structure into storm drains. The warehouse contains nearly 8,000 gallons of corrosive chemicals, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The warehouse's owner, Eastern Plating Co., has hired an environmental contractor to help it remove the chemicals from the rubble, MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said. The name of the contractor was not available. The company's owner could not be reached for comment.
About 90 firefighters responded to the three-alarm blaze about 8:30 p.m. Sunday and battled it until about midnight. Most of the roof collapsed, and the small one-story brick facility was condemned. No injuries were reported.
MDE officials were monitoring runoff from the site Monday in the 1200 block of Baylis St., both as it poured into storm drains and as it flowed out into the harbor at the Canton waterfront, Apperson said. The chemicals inside the warehouse were sodium hydroxide, a powerful base, and sulfuric, nitric and chloric acids. No dangerous levels of acid were detected, Apperson said.
Eastern Plating anodizes metals, a process that uses powerful acids to protect materials from rust or prepare them to be painted.
When firefighters responded to the blaze, they were not aware of any chemicals inside the building, said a city Fire Department spokesman, Chief Kevin Cartwright. Businesses are required to publicly post any chemicals they use or store, but because the building was in flames, that information wasn't available, Cartwright said.
Cartwright said he didn't know if the information had been posted but that fire officials were able to reach the company's owner as firefighters tackled the blaze.
While fire investigators haven't determined a cause, the caustic chemicals are not flammable, Cartwright said. If they had been, they likely would have exploded because of the intensity of the fire, he said. Cartwright did not have a timetable for the investigation but said it would involve interviews with company officials as well as physical inspection of the rubble once it is deemed safe to do so.
About a dozen firefighters remained at the scene through Monday afternoon, wetting down the smoking debris to prevent it from reigniting. Firefighters remained on standby into the night as the ravaged building was being demolished, Cartwright said.
Neighbors, about 60 of whom were evacuated for about 90 minutes Sunday night, said they had no idea dangerous chemicals were inside the small facility they passed by daily.
"We figured it must have been something, for all the government people to be out here," said Linda Theofanou, who lives nearby in the 3400 block of Elliott St., as she watched firefighters and hazardous-materials crews work Monday afternoon.
"We probably shouldn't be out here," Theofanou said jokingly. A burning odor hung in the air and black ash still littered the streets.
But Evan Keyser, who rents out a home on the 3400 block of Toone St., said he was comforted by the presence of environmental officials on the scene.
"It seems like they have things under control," Keyser said.
Still, some had concerns. Observers told Blue Water Baltimore, a clean-water advocacy group, that they could see and smell debris from the fire discharging into the bay, said David Flores, water-quality manager for the group's Waterkeeper Program.
"We are concerned about the water-quality impacts from the polluted run-off generated by the fire-fighting effort and, as cleanup continues, contamination to groundwater and soils at this site," Flores said in an email.
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