Looking for the waste

The state and Orlando Sentinel have agreed to embark on a search for buried waste barrels in an attempt to learn whether in the 1970s the newspaper dropped potentially toxic chemicals in a former Altamonte Springs dump.

Charles Collins, a project manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection, recently met with a Sentinel safety manager and with Allen Pyle, owner of the former Pyle's Pit Landfill, where the Sentinel may have dumped thousands of gallons of solvents, possibly including trichloroethylene, or TCE. According to Collins, the land over the barrels is now owned by the city of Altamonte Springs. The DEP is pursuing permission to dig at the site, while the Sentinel is researching the use of metal detectors to help locate the lost barrels.

Already the newspaper is helping to pay for cleanup of groundwater resources downtown whose contamination was traced to waste ink and solvents used at the newspaper's printing plant. The possibility that two other sites might have been polluted by the same cause was brought to the state's attention by Orlando Weekly, which unearthed a deposition by a former Sentinel worker who says he dumped waste barrels both in Altamonte Springs and at Orange County's former landfill on Good Homes Road [Poison Pens? Feb. 25].

At the Altamonte site, the engineer who wrote the permit that allowed the Sentinel to dump the barrels there says that, at the time, he and other environmental enforcers were concerned primarily with PCBs, and thus didn't test for TCE. Since the PCB test showed no cause for alarm, "the EPA didn't regulate," says Collins.

He added that Pyle and the Sentinel agreed in the late 1970s to place the waste barrels in one spot at the Altamonte landfill, at a site most recently occupied by the Legends driving range and batting cage. Concerned that PCB rules might become more strict in the future, the agreement was reached so that it would be easier to retrieve the barrels later if necessary.

"It's important to note that all ground-water tests on that site for the past two years have been clean," says Sentinel spokeswoman Colleen Dykes. "There is no immediate threat of anything."

Meanwhile, at the Good Homes Road site, Orange County's hydrology consultant has proposed spending $38,000 to learn the dimensions of its former dump there and the direction of ground-water flow that would have carried any contamination. "The next step is a ground-water monitoring plan," says James Bradner, DEP's solid-waste program manager for Central Florida. He could not specify when drilling for such a monitoring plan might start.

The downtown spill beneath the Sentinel covers a 10-block area stretching from Amelia Street north to Lake Concord, and from Magnolia Avenue west to Interstate 4. Cleanup started in 1997, but could take more than 10 years.