The District government has arranged to remove about 500 rusted drums, some containing hazardous chemicals, from the former site of the federal National Training School in Northeast where they were illegally dumped 15 to 20 years ago, city officials said.
Two years ago, the unfenced area was included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of the country's 115 most dangerous hazardous waste sites, although it was ranked near the bottom in severity.
The drums sit in wooded areas off a dirt road a few hundred yards from the Fort Lincoln Elementary School and housing development, near New York and South Dakota avenues NE.
EPA and District environmental officials last week said they did not know how hazardous the flammable wastes are, but said the chemicals -- dyes, oils, paints, printing inks and industrial solvents -- pose a danger to those who come in direct contact with them. The officials said they have had no reports of injuries because of the chemicals.
Samples taken 2 1/2 years ago from 30 of the drums showed the chemicals included cancer-causing PCB, used in industrial processes, and TCE, an industrial solvent, said Janet Luffy, a spokeswoman for the EPA, which conducted the tests. Some traces of the now-banned insecticide DDT were found in dirt at the site, she said.
But tests at the time found the air and a nearby stream that runs into the Anacostia River free of contamination, EPA officials said.
The chemicals are "not all hazardous. Some are definitely hazardous because they contain ingredients on an EPA hazardous chemical list, but until the company gets in there and cleans up, we won't know how hazardous," said Angelo Tompros, chief of the D.C. Environmental Services Department's pesticides and hazardous waste management division.
He said other dumps nationwide "are far more dangerous than this site." He said the site is "the only thing that comes close" to a hazardous waste site in the city.
The District has hired American Recovery Inc. of Baltimore to remove the drums and contaminated dirt at a cost of $170,000, city and federal officials said. The company will recycle any usable chemicals it finds in the drums and will dispose of the remaining wastes in licensed hazardous waste sites.
The cleanup is expected to begin next month and take one to two months, a company spokesman said. The officials said the city plans to use part of a federal urban renewal grant to cover the cost.
Because the drums are on federally owned land, it does not qualify for money from the $1.6 billion Superfund created by Congress to pay cleanup costs of dangerous toxic waste dumps and chemical spills.
Tompros said officials have been unable to identify those who dumped the drums because markings have faded or been washed off EPA officials said they estimated the drums were dumped in the mid-1960s based on their corroded condition.
The 55-gallon drums are concentrated in three spots on the five-acre site; most of them line a hillside above the stream. Many drums are scorched from fires, and others are empty, apparently because their contents leaked over the years, officials said.
Scattered among the drums are junked refrigerators, tires, construction materials and other trash.
"This stuff had to go somewhere, whether into the stream or the ground," said Ed Hopkins, research director of the Clean Water Fund-Clean Water Action Project, on a tour of the site. "If it went into the ground, then it probably seeped into the stream and into the Anacostia."
Ralph Taylor, executive vice president of Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., said the drums "are absolutely no concern or threat to the people who live" at Fort Lincoln. He said the company was surprised when the EPA included the site on its list of dangerous sites. He said Fort Lincoln development plans call for including the land as part of a lake and commercial complex.
He said the site is "nowhere near" the Fort Lincoln housing and is not used by residents.
Officials at the elementary school and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5A were unaware of the hazardous wastes.
EPA officials said they learned of the wastes in 1980 after District housing officials discovered the drums while surveying the site for development.
The land was used until the mid-1960s by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for the training school, a reform center for boys, officials said. The land since has not been used, and its control has shifted to other agencies and now is held by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD officials said they plan to transfer or sell the land to the District to be part of Fort Lincoln.