A federal toxic waste cleanup crew yesterday began moving onto the Drumco Inc. storage yard near Brooklyn Park, believed to contain about400 barrels of hazardous liquids.

"That's going to be our home away from home," Jeremy Heep, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said, as a truck hauled a 40-foot house trailer through the gates off Pennington Avenue. Soon the trailer would be wired for electricity, telephones and staffed by federal environmental officials.

For the next two or three months, at a cost of $2 million, the EPA will be cleaning up the mess left behind by Drumco, whose owner wassentenced last month to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay a $50,000fine for violating state environmental laws.

Beyond the gates, inrolling grassland surrounded by gas tank yards and industrial buildings on the Anne Arundel-Baltimore City line, are roughly 400 barrels containing toxic, flammable or corrosive liquids, Heep said.

The EPA estimates roughly13,000 empty barrels, barrels made of metal, plastic and a cardboard-like material, also litter five acres of the 14-acre site at Arundel Boulevard and Aspen Street. The storage yard is less than a mile east of the residential neighborhoods of Brooklyn Park.

The materials are dangerous because they could explode or ignite, Heep said, especially since they are surrounded by fields of tall,sun-dried weeds. They could pose a threat to the environment if theyleak into the ground and would be hazardous to anyone touching them.

The EPA's first task is to figure out what's in the yard.

"A lot of it has very high grass," said Heep, holding his hand out above his head. "We're not sure where the drums are."

The agency -- working under the Superfund program -- plans to test the material in the barrels and take soil samples to learn if the ground has been contaminated. Contaminated soil will be treated and the materials will be removed, Heep said.

Drumco, a steel-barrel recycling firm, had done business in the yard for 22 years. Last September, acting on a tip from the Community of Curtis Bay Association, state environmental authorities rode into the yard and found a trailer filled with 44 leaking drums.

Those drums were removed immediately by the Maryland Department of the Environment, said agency spokesman Mike Sullivan. But as the state explored the yard, it found more barrels of potentially hazardous liquids, and called upon the EPA for help.

Based on information gathered in April, Heep said the EPA estimates that 400 barrels containing some toxic material remain at Drumco.

George Phillips Garratt III, of Carroll County, said in September that his company hadrun short of money. He said he could not afford to legally dispose of the toxic material. He acknowledged in a published report that he did not have a permit to store hazardous waste.

In state Circuit Court on June 25, Garratt, a 37-year-old Sykesville man, and his company pleaded guilty to illegally abandoning and storing flammable toxic material. Along with the jail term and the fine, Judge Eugene M. Lerner ordered Garratt to perform 200 hours of community service.

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