Southern Maryland has at least 78 facilities that handle chemicals so dangerous they would kill or injure hundreds of people in a major leak or fire, according to records in Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties.

The facilities include manufacturers, warehouses, retail businesses and public facilities that store, use or manufacture chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency has put on an "extremely hazardous" list.

The list was developed as part of a program to help local governments identify chemical risks in their communities and work with the facilities to lower the chances of a catastrophe. The governments' hazardous material response plans are public records, and The Washington Post reviewed them to determine the number of high-risk facilities in the region and whether government officials are prepared for such a disaster.

In all, there are 607 hazardous material facilities in the D.C. area. Charles County has 38 sites, St. Mary's 22 and Calvert 18. Montgomery (177 sites) and Prince George's counties (86) have the greatest number of dangerous facilities in Maryland, while Fairfax County (65) leads Northern Virginia counties. Comparisons, however, are difficult to make, because some counties have more industry than others, and Montgomery County has a stricter standard for reporting that boosts its overall total.

The plants store and use materials such as chlorine, sulfuric acid and ammonia, all of which can be fatal even in small amounts. Southern Maryland also has several sites that store or sell farm chemicals and petroleum products.

While officials in the three counties believe they know about most of the facilities that fall under the EPA program, they are concerned there may be some sites with small amounts of hazardous chemicals that do not report to them.

"The thing that's frightening is, you have the feeling 'I'm not getting everybody I should,' " said Paul Wible, St. Mary's emergency preparedness director.

County officials say they are prepared to handle most serious incidents, although they acknowledge that outside expertise may be needed for some types of leaks.

"Most major disasters . . . will exceed the resource capabilities of Charles County," according to the Charles plan, a view echoed by St. Mary's. Those who arrive first at the scene of an incident don't always immediately know which chemicals they're dealing with, and as a result, chemicals often mix.

Because Southern Maryland is on a peninsula, road access is limited. That would present an additional challenge if emergency personnel had to evacuate the area. But Phil Coope, deputy director of the St. Mary's emergency management agency, said the county has four main evacuation routes off Routes 4, 5 and 235.

In addition to the risk posed by the permanent facilities, county residents also face the threat of a random accident involving hazardous materials transported on major highways and CSX railroad tracks.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head in Charles County and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's are of special concern, according to the plan. The facilities submitted thick reports listing dozens of chemicals on their sites, including those such as chlorine and ammonia that are of most concern to hazardous material specialists. Like many federal facilities, the centers have their own personnel trained to respond first to an incident.

Hazardous Chemicals in Southern Maryland

Federal law requires local governments to maintain a list of facilities that store or use dangerous chemicals. Each jurisdiction must identify hazardous substances, analyze the risk these substances could pose to the surrounding community and develop emergency response plans in the case of a spill or accident. The map below shows facilities in the three Southern Maryland counties that have reported dangerous chemicals.

CHARLES COUNTY

AMMONIA

Morgantown Generating Station

Naval Surface Warfare Center

SULFURIC ACID

Bell Atlantic

CHLORINE

Naval Surface Warfare Center

Southern Maryland Pre-Release Water/Wastewater

PROPANE

Suburban Propane

University of Maryland

OTHER CHEMICALS

AR Systems Inc.

Beantown Food Mart

Bel Alton Xtra Mart

Besche Oil Co.

Burch Oil of Charles County

Bryans Road Bulk Plant

Bryans Road Texaco

Bryantown Store

Beantown Food Mart

Faulkner Ash Storage Facility

Gardiner Road Gate Station

Glymont Dash In

The Ink Company

LaFarge

La Plata Armory

La Plata Dash In

La Plata Plant

La Plata Shopping Center Texaco

Mattawoman Waste Waste Treatment Facility

Mattos Inc.

Myers Texaco

Mobil Oil Corp. (3 locations)

Waldorf Xtra Gas

Waste Management of Southern Maryland

Westlake Dash In

White Plains Dash In

White Plains Gate Station

United Parcel Service

7-Eleven Store (2 locations)

CALVERT COUNTY

CHLORINE

Naval Research Laboratory

SULFURIC ACID

Bell Atlantic (4 locations)

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant

PROPANE

Schwan's Sales Enterprises Inc.

OTHER CHEMCIALS

C&P Telephone

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant

Calvert Village Texaco

Gordon Bowen

Lusby Texaco

Owings Plant

Owings Dash In

Calvert Village Texaco

Country Plaza Texaco

Prince Frederick Armory

Cove Point LNG Limited Partnership

Calvert County Mosquito Control

Naval Research Laboratory

Naval Surface Warfare Solomons Complex

ST. MARY'S COUNTY

AMMONIA

Patuxent River Naval Air Station

SULFURIC ACID

Bell Atlantic (7 locations)

Patuxent River Naval Air Station

CHLORINE

Patuxent River Naval Air Station

St. Mary's College (Water Treatment)

Point Lookout State Park (Water Treatment)

Charlotte Hall Veterans (Water Treatment)

PROPANE

Suburban Propane

OTHER CHEMICALS

Besche Oil Company

Burch Oil Company (4 locations)

Southern States

M.P. Hollywood L.L.C.

Hydro Kirby Agri

ST Services

Redland Genstar

SOURCE: Counties' hazardous materials response plans