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Smoke Testing

Over the next 12 years, the City of Atlanta will inspect, repair and where necessary, replace every foot of the 2,200 miles of sanitary sewers. This unprecedented $1.2 billion project is an integral part of the City's comprehensive efforts to meet and surpass all federal and state water quality standards.

The successful completion of the Clean Water Atlanta (CWA) projects will benefit Atlanta's citizens and ratepayers, and our neighbors downstream and throughout the region by providing the infrastructure necessary to improve water quality and sustain Atlanta's economic vitality.

The SSES project is the first step in bringing Atlanta's aging sewer system up to world class/modern-day standards and protecting Atlanta ratepayers' quality of life by eliminating Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). Through the efforts of the SSES, approximately 60,000 manholes and 2,200 miles of sanitary sewers will be inspected for cracks, collapses, and blockages. After extensive investigation and documentation of defects is completed, a rehabilitation plan will be developed, identifying necessary sewer repairs and replacement. In severe situations, immediate repair may be required.

As a method of identifying and correcting problems in the City of Atlanta's sewer system, the SSES Project team will conduct smoke testing in certain sections of the project area.

What is smoke testing and why is it conducted?

Smoke testing is one of the most efficient and cost effective methods of locating sources of inflow and infiltration problems with sewers. The non-toxic "smoke" will help locate places where storm and other surface waters enter the sanitary sewers. It is conducted by placing a blower over a centrally located manhole and forcing non-toxic smoke-filled air through a sewer line. The smoke under pressure will fill the main line plus any connections, then follow the path of any leaks to the ground's surface, quickly revealing the source of inflow and infiltration (I&I) . I&I occurs when groundwater or rainwater enters the sewer lines through cracks, breaks, and/or areas not intended to drain to the sewer system, which robs the pipes of needed capacity and causes overflows and flooding. The smoke will be noticeable wherever there is a leak in a sanitary sewer pipe, such as a crack in a sewer pipe, a cross-connection between a storm sewer and a sanitary sewer, where a roof drain is connected to the sanitary sewer, from a broken cleanout cap, or from a defective or damaged manhole.

Is the smoke harmful?

No. The smoke is specially manufactured for testing and is not dangerous or toxic, it leaves no residue or stains, and should not affect plants or pets. Visible smoke and/or smoke odor will last only a few minutes in cases of proper ventilation. In the unlikely event that citizens come in direct contact with the smoke, there is a slight possibility for minor respiratory passage irritation. However, if there are people in your household or building that have emphysema, asthma, or other respiratory conditions, please notify the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management so that the City can further discuss your situation and ensure your comfort and safety.

What if smoke enters the house or building?

The smoke has a very distinctive, but not unpleasant, odor. During testing, do not be concerned if you see smoke coming from your rooftop sewer vents. This is normal. Smoke should exit the vent stacks of the surrounding properties within the testing area. If traces of smoke or its odor are detected in your building or home, it is an indication that gases from the sewer system could also be entering. Sewer gases can be dangerous, and some of these gases have no odor or color, and can enter a building undetected. If you observe smoke in your building during testing, the City urges you to contact your plumber to have him try to locate the source of the leak that you have witnessed and take the appropriate corrective measures. Location, identification, and correction of the source of smoke that enters your building should quickly be addressed.

Can smoke block the sewer?

No. Depending on the equipment being used, the smoke will be generated by lighting a smoke bomb (which does not explode; only emits a stream of smoke) or by utilizing liquid smoke. The smoke is a vaporous substance and cannot clog a sewer pipe.

How will I know when and if smoke testing is being conducted in my area?

The residents of the affected area will receive notices prior to testing. Contact numbers will be provided if you should have any questions or concerns.

What should I do to prepare for smoke testing?

To avoid smoke from unnecessarily entering your building, we suggest you run water into all of your drains for 5 minutes, the night prior to the date that smoke testing will be conducted in your area, especially those drains that are used infrequently, such as basement and garage drains. Make sure to crack windows for ventilation if pets are in the home.

Will rodents be smoked out?

No. However, the smoke will detect broken building sewers where rodents might have access. Owners will be notified to repair broken building sewers.

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