Smoke Testing scheduled to start in Allentown sewer system

Beginning on Monday, July 28th, Lehigh County Authority sewer customers in Allentown may notice some unusual activity in their neighborhoods. A sight you don’t often see – smoke rising from the ground, from manhole covers, and even from the rooftops – may cause alarm, but it is part of LCA’s proactive strategy to find leaks in the sewer system.

“Smoke testing” is a procedure where a harmless, non-flammable smoke is pumped into the sewer system, and then inspectors evaluate the area to see where the smoke rises. The old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” almost applies – in this case it should be restated to say “where there’s smoke, there’s a sewer leak.” (For more info on smoke testing, including a fact sheet and link to a video, click here.)

During the smoke testing process, smoke may be seen rising from the ground where there is a leak in the system below, rising from manhole covers that are not properly sealed, and rising from sewer vents in customers’ yards and rooftops. In addition, if customers have any unauthorized connections to the sewer system, such as roof leaders or sump pumps, smoke may be seen in those areas as well. LCA’s contractor, Video Pipe Services, will be on site at all times during the project so residents will be able to identify the source of the smoke as being included in this project.

Customers in affected areas were notified by mail and by phone over the past month that the project is coming, but LCA wants everyone to be aware of the project to avoid unnecessary alarm if smoke is noticed in key neighborhoods. City fire departments and police were also notified so that they are aware in case emergency calls come in. The project is expected to be completed between July 28 and August 8. Customers who aren’t sure if the smoke they are seeing is part of this project should call 9-1-1 and report it.

Key project areas for this round of smoke testing include the 1600-1900 blocks of East Greenleaf Street, the 500-900 blocks of North Sherman Street, the 600 block of North Randolph and North Quebec streets, the 1700-1900 block on Union Boulevard and Hanover Avenue, and some surrounding areas.

These project areas were selected as the first round of investigations that will continue throughout the city, as LCA continues projects that were started by the City of Allentown to reduce leakage into the sewer system. Leakage in the sewer system is a major concern throughout Lehigh County, where rainwater leaking into the system can cause sewer overflows during severe storms.

This is just one step LCA is taking to investigate the problem within the city system since assuming operational responsibility for the system last year as a result of a 50-year lease of the water and sewer systems from the City of Allentown. In addition to the smoke-testing project, LCA has completed extensive preventative maintenance on the sewer system since the lease transition occurred on August 8, 2013. This includes inspecting more than 86,000 feet of sewer lines using an in-line camera system to document pipe condition and plan repairs, and completing sewer line cleaning in nearly 590,000 feet of sewer lines. In addition, earlier this month LCA kicked off an annual root treatment program to eliminate roots in problem areas of the sewer system that are prone to backups.

Still, customers are reminded that maintaining a healthy sewer system is a community effort. Steps customers can take to prevent backups and sewer overflows:

• Dispose of grease in the trash, not down the drain. Grease from homes and restaurants is a major cause of sewer blockages.
• Disconnect unauthorized connections from the sanitary sewer system. This includes sump pumps and roof leaders, which collect clean water (groundwater or rainwater) that does not belong in the sanitary sewer system.
• Plant appropriate trees that do not have wide-spreading roots, and don’t plant trees over the sewer lateral that connects the home to the public sewer line.
• Use the garbage, not the sewer system, for disposal of large items. Large items are often found in the sewer system that should never be put down the drain, flushed, or dropped into a manhole. This includes diapers, rags, footballs, plastic bags and even bicycles!