By Chris Fish
PALM BAY - The Palm Bay Utilities Department conducted smoke testing last week on its wastewater collection system by forcing a non-toxic smoke into sanitary sewer lines throughout the city. The purpose of the testing was to check for defects within the pipes.
"It's a very cheap, economical, quick, safe, very low-impact way for us to go out within a day or two and find anywhere from 30 to 100 defects," said Dave Bryant, Utilities Department wastewater collections supervisor. "We tested this week, and the contractor will probably give me his results within the next seven days. Then, the following seven days, I'll send my crew out to fix the defects."
Mr. Bryant said the smoke is made from a safe, non-toxic oil that is produced specifically for the purpose of this test, which is not harmful to people or animals.
"It's actually a real neat method how they do it," he said. "The machine that's used is a fan that is powered by a motor that you would find on a lawn mower. It fits perfectly over the manhole. The motor has a dual purpose. This oil creates a white smoke when it drips onto the exhaust pipe (connected to the fan)."
The city's Utility Department provided a map, via www.pbud.com, where residents can identify the areas being tested.
Mr. Bryant said residents should not have seen smoke in their homes unless there was a problem with their pipes.
"If everything is working correctly in your home, you'll never even know that we were there," he said. "Underneath your sink, there is a trap that holds water. Toilets and bathtubs all have that, too. If they are all working correctly, the water from the traps will prevent the smoke from coming into your home. If smoke comes into your house, it's actually a good thing because it lets you know that sewer gas is coming into your home."
However, Mr. Bryant said smoke from the tests rarely gets into people's homes, but it has happened in the past, for example, in vacant homes, where water in the trap has evaporated; in homes being remodeled, where fixtures haven't been capped appropriately, or in large homes, where certain rooms don' t get used often.
Mr. Bryant said people should run the water in all of their home's rooms every three months to ensure gas is not getting into their home.
Mr. Bryant said his crew does everything within their power to make sure residents are aware of the testing.
"We put notice as a door knocker on everyone's front door at least 48 hours prior to the smoke test," he said. "We also do a press release. We try to get word out, and we notify the police department, the fire department, city manager's office, etc."
For residents with concerns, Mr. Bryant said they should feel free to approach his crew and ask questions.
"We always have a city representative out at the scene with a flashing light, wearing a vest, so he is clearly visible," he said. "We advise residents to watch for the city truck and talk to the staff, and he will show you what is going on if you have any concerns."