Master Metals, a shuttered Cleveland-based refiner of scrap lead, is seeking help from previous site occupants in its effort to clean up hazardous waste at its plant, Ohio EPA officials said.

The move fueled speculation that the owners of Master Metals are preparing to sell the property rather than reopen it for lead refining.The 20,000-metric-ton-per-year plant was ordered closed in August by the Ohio agency for violations of an October 1992 directive to halt air pollution and to clean up subterranean hazardous waste.

In closing the plant, the EPA cited Master Metals for releasing "visible emissions" of lead on 17 different dates. In the first quarter of the year lead emissions were 900 percent greater than the permissible level, the EPA said.

The order said Master Metals would not be allowed to reopen until the company "can demonstrate that it can operate in a responsible manner" by installing new pollution control equipment, an Ohio EPA spokesman said.

Master Metals told the EPA previously that it does not have the money to complete the air cleanup.

And in a recent letter to the EPA's division of Emergency and Remedial Response, the company focused its attention on its hazardous waste problems, prompting speculation that the company is preparing to liquidate rather than reopen.

The cleanup of the remaining hazardous waste was not a condition for reopening, said an EPA spokesman said, who emphasized that much of the waste removal has been done already.

Master Metals' letter to the EPA said much of the waste at the site came

from previous owners, who should share responsibility for the clean-up.

Waste violations at the site include contaminated soil and polluting underground storage tanks.

Doug Mickey, principal owner of Master Metals, could not be reached for comment.