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Cleanup of downtown Orlando pollution gears up

Demolition of a warehouse next week in Orlando will be the most visible response yet to decades of worry about the city's oldest and most challenging pollution mess.

Designated in 2003 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site, a title for the nation's most vexing pollution, is a vast blob of contamination deep underground in the Floridan Aquifer that has spread beneath much of downtown.

It has taken investigators years to assess the extent of contamination because of how far and deeply it has spread. But little significant has been done to get at the toxic mess.

"In addition to the drilling rigs drilling test holes, this is the first," said David Bass, assistant city attorney.

The pollution source was a 4-acre refinery complex along West Robinson Street in the Callahan neighborhood, where from 1888 until 1959, coal was baked as an ingredient to manufacture a once widely used fuel similar to natural gas.

One byproduct was coal tar, an oily solution of benzene, naphthalene, arsenic, beryllium and other toxic or cancer-causing chemicals that investigators think was sold for commercial use or burned as a fuel.

Some of it, mixed with wastewater, was dumped for a period of decades into a well or even several wells that extend into the Floridan Aquifer.