The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has begun an investigation of a Beltsville paint making company that allegedly disposed of 85 barrels of possibly toxic wastes near Richmond, state officials said yesterday.

The firm, Duron Paint and Wallcoverings Inc., has agreed to remove the barrels that were left at the remote sites last December and January, according to Virginia health officials.

An analysis of the contents of one of the barrels showed it to contain a hazardous paint residual, that is both toxic and flammable, officials said.

Maryland officials said they would meet next week with Virginia and federal authorities to assist in the removal of the drums, and determine if any other hazardous materials may have been dumped.

Spokesman Evelyn E. Eader said the enforcement division of the Natural Resources Department would try to determine who moved the drums to the three Caroline County sites, mid-way between Richmond and Fredericksburg, about 10 miles north of the Kings Dominion amusement park.

Eader said investigators would examine Duron's records to try to track the materials from their point of origin to disposal, in an attempt to determine if any liability is involved. Maryland and Virginia laws governing the disposal of hazardous wastes carry heavy fines, if companies are found in violation.

Eader said hazardous wastes are supposed to be dumped or processed at licensed facilities, and it appeared that that was not the case of the drums found in Virginia.

According to Virginia newspaper reports, many of the barrels were originally found in early December on a back road leading to a horse and cattle farm, but state health officials were not notified of the dumpings until several months later.

The news reports said the drums -- containing about 4,600 gallons of the materials -- were traced to the Beltsville plant manufacturer from markings on the barrels.

The Duron Co., which has not admitted responsibility for the dumpings, said it would issue a statement on the investigation later this week.