Where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire

By Jennifer Nations, Water Resource Coordinator

In recent weeks, College Station Water Services has been conducting another round of smoke testing to evaluate the condition of some of our community’s aging wastewater lines. We started in the oldest areas of our wastewater collection system and will periodically test other parts of the system.

Through next week, we’ll be smoke testing in the area bounded by Harvey Road, Texas Avenue, Francis Drive, and Earl Rudder Freeway.

We do our best to make sure the public is aware of these tests, but the Fire Department still gets calls from worried residents who see smoke seeping out of sinks, vent pipes, manholes, and even the ground. Although no fire is present, CSFD still must respond, which ties up our valuable emergency response resources.

Smoke testing identifies locations of defects and improper connections. Technicians blow an odorless and non-toxic mist into the sewer and wait to see where it leaks out. It may exit through vent pipes on roofs, wastewater manholes, and the ground above breaks in the sewer system. Smoke might even find its way into service connections and vent from buildings served by the wastewater lines.

What are the benefits?

The wastewater collection system is designed to treat wastewater, not stormwater, and plays a vital role in maintaining our infrastructure. Excess water from inflow and infiltration takes up capacity in the pipes and ends up in our treatment plants, where it must be treated like sewage and results in higher treatment costs.

Inflow is stormwater that enters the sewer system through direct connections such as downspouts and drains that are connected to sewer service lines. Infiltration is rainfall that accumulates near sewer lines and enters the system through structural problems such as cracks and holes in the pipes.

Is it dangerous?

We use an odorless, non-toxic, non-staining mist that’s highly visible at low concentrations. It’s not really smoke, so it isn’t hazardous. If the mist enters your home, open your windows or doors and it should quickly dissipate.

Typically, the smoke enters buildings through a dry P-trap — the curved portion of pipe under the sink — or outside the base of a toilet where the wax seal has come undone. You can prevent this by running water down infrequently-used sinks. The sinks you use regularly have water in the P-trap that keeps the smoke from entering.

For more information, contact me at 979-764-6223. Please report problems with water, wastewater, or electricity to utility dispatch any time at 855-528-4278 and have your account number ready.

About the Blogger

Jennifer Nations has been the City of College Station’s water resource coordinator since 1999 after two years as BVSWMA’s environmental compliance officer. She’s also chair of the Water Conservation and Reuse Division for the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association. A native of Fremont, Calif., Jennifer earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental & resource science from UC-Davis in 1995 and a master’s degree in water management & hydrologic science from Texas A&M in 2016.


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