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Behind a fence, between a pair of industrial buildings on Quad Avenue in Southeast Baltimore, barrels can be seen on a loading dock. The Environmental Protection Agency has been waiting for a year and a half to access the buildings and remove barrels of chemicals a city fire official deemed a seven-alarm fire risk.
Behind a fence, between a pair of industrial buildings on Quad Avenue in Southeast Baltimore, barrels can be seen on a loading dock. The Environmental Protection Agency has been waiting for a year and a half to access the buildings and remove barrels of chemicals a city fire official deemed a seven-alarm fire risk. (Scott Dance / Baltimore Sun)

A year and a half after officials deemed a pair of abandoned Southeast Baltimore buildings a seven-alarm-fire risk, the Environmental Protection Agency may gain access soon to remove hundreds of barrels of toxic and flammable chemicals that remain exposed to the elements.

The case has seemed in limbo after the recent death of the buildings’ owner, whom the EPA sued, and a foreclosure on the property, according to court records. But an EPA spokesman said the owner’s widow allowed the agency onto the site this week, and officials are developing a plan to clean it up.

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City fire officials did not answer questions about the safety of the site in the meantime.

EPA officials have said they are keeping the Quad Avenue site secure until they can complete a cleanup estimated to cost $1.8 million, but it was unguarded on a recent visit by a Baltimore Sun reporter. Behind a chain-link gate secured by a rusty chain and a padlock, black barrels bearing labels that appeared to say “flammable” sat on a loading dock between the two buildings.

The property has raised concern among fire officials and environmental regulators at least since a May 2018 inspection, which found it contained about 1,000 barrels of chemicals, some of which were corroded, distended or open, according to court records. Substances stored in the warehouses include methanol and triethylene glycol, both of which are flammable, and hazardous chemicals used in epoxies, the records say.

EPA spokesman David Sternberg said the agency was able to access the site in August 2018 to secure it and stage the materials for removal. But it had been seeking access to the buildings again via a suit in U.S. District Court so it can clear the site, he said.

The EPA sued Kinloch Yellott III, whom state property records list as the owner, in July. Yellott died in August. His family’s Haven Corp., an ink and adhesives company, had operated from the warehouses. According to his obituary, Yellott had sold the company. Yellott’s wife, Jean Sands Yellott, could not be reached for comment.

While the EPA waited until July to sue Yellott for access, Circuit Court of Maryland records show Yellott lost the deed to the property in February to an entity known as LMG 17 LLC.

Bruce Kurlander, a Columbia lawyer listed in state business records as the resident agent for LMG 17, said he did not know anything about the building but would ask two clients who own it to contact The Sun. They have not.

Sternberg said it was unclear to EPA officials whether the foreclosure was complete. And in its latest federal court filing, the EPA said the attorney for Yellott’s wife said she still controlled the property as the personal representative of her husband’s estate.

A city fire department spokeswoman declined to answer whether firefighters are aware of the risks and necessary tactics if the buildings were to catch fire, instead directing a reporter to file a request under the Maryland Public Information Act. The department did not respond to a request for records tied to inspections of the buildings.

When told a Sun reporter found the site unguarded recently, Sternberg said security guards EPA has stationed there 24-7 “do take breaks occasionally.”

Bob Schofield, foreman of Angelos Machine Co. next door, said there typically are security guards posted outside the buildings, but he has otherwise seen no activity there for the past year or more.

“It’s a biohazard — just chilling,” he said.

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