BALTIMORE, FEB. 13 -- Pipe bombs discovered at a chemical storage plant in Norfolk this month could have destroyed an entire square mile of that city, prosecutors told a federal magistrate here today.

Successfully arguing that a Howard County businessman charged in the bombing attempt should be held without bond, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ira L. Oring said it was "just a matter of luck" that the six bombs failed to detonate.

Charles Edward Gresham, 57, an international chemical products dealer with businesses in Brazil and the Bahamas, was arrested here Saturday, as were two men in Arizona. All three were charged with conspiracy to bomb two chemical tanks at the Norfolk storage facility in an alleged insurance-fraud scheme. The pipe bombs were discovered Feb. 4 and disarmed by police.

Oring said Norfolk fire officials told prosecutors that tanks containing methanol and other volatile liquids could have caused a huge chain reaction explosion, "threatening the lives of innocent civilians" in a nearby neighborhood and letting 1.6 million gallons of toxic sodium hydrosulfide pour into the Elizabeth River.

Gresham knew the consequences of the bombing attempt, Oring said, and "coldly calculated" it with "no regard for human life."

After a 2 1/2-hour hearing, U.S. Magistrate Paul M. Rosenberg ordered Gresham held until trial without bond.

The other suspects, Joseph W. Openshaw, 36, of St. Johns, Ariz., and Cecil Howard Ross, 31, of Glendale, Ariz., also have been ordered held without bond by a federal magistrate in Phoenix.

Rosenberg said that if Gresham were freed on bond, he might flee because he is likely to be convicted and sentenced to more than 25 years in prison and apparently has extensive financial holdings overseas.

"He has every reason to flee and no reason to stay and face the music," Rosenberg said.

Defense lawyer Joshua Treem argued that the prosecution failed to show that Gresham has assets overseas and denied that he would be a danger to the community if released on bond.

According to prosecutors and FBI agents, Gresham was paid $983,000 last year through his Ellicott City business called Applied Technology by a now-defunct company to dispose of more than a million gallons of sodium hydrosulfide, a toxic byproduct of copper mining used abroad in tanning and paper manufacturing.

Unable to sell the chemical, investigators said, Gresham stored 1.6 million gallons of it at the Allied Terminal in Norfolk. In early December, he bought a three-month, $2.7 million insurance policy on it, investigators allege, then plotted with Openshaw and Ross to bomb the sodium hydrosulfide storage tank and an adjacent one containing methanol to collect the insurance.

At today's hearing, Gresham, a former vice president of the University of Baltimore, emerged as a well-traveled international businessman, who prosecutors said owned two Applied Technology subsidiaries in Brazil and an insurance business in the Bahamas.

"We believe he has much more assets {overseas} than he admits," Oring said. He said Gresham acknowledged owning three pieces of real estate valued at $400,000, stocks worth $30,000 and bank accounts worth $41,000.

According to Maryland state records, Gresham started Oak Charter Insurance Ltd. in 1986 but was fined $25,000 by the Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation for selling insurance without a license. In the proceedings against him then, Gresham told officials he had $6 million in accounts in Morocco, a claim officials said he was unable to substantiate.

Business acquaintances said Gresham owned property in Brazil and the Bahamas, where he opened Oak Charter. In 1988, he started Applied Technology, operating it from his Ellicott City home.

He was vice president of the University of Baltimore from 1972 to 1982, working primarily as a fund-raiser, university officials said. He then taught in the business school at Towson State University in suburban Baltimore from 1982 to 1985. He left after failing to obtain tenure, said William Brown, a professor who was on the tenure committee at the time.