Why Does It Look Like the Street is on Fire?!?!

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about “Smoke Testing” but were afraid to ask!

March 21, 2013

(West Palm Beach, FL) – Throughout the month of February you may have noticed smoke billowing out from under the streets, rising up through various manholes, vent stacks or even some homes.

The reason is not because there is something burning.  It is the City of West Palm Beach Public Utilities Department performing smoke testing around the City. The testing is both simple to understand and critical to perform.

The purpose is to test for any sections of sewer pipes which may have leaks or cracks.  The idea couldn’t be simpler: blow safe, non-toxic, harmless smoke through the sewer system and watch for any spots where it may leak out.

“We do this in order to locate any sections of the system where we may get inflow when it rains,” said David Hanks, City of West Palm Beach Director of Public Utilities. “But it also helps homeowners. If our crews detect smoke coming up under someone’s yard or driveway, it could mean they have a leak that needs to be addressed.”

You don’t need to be home when the testing is done.  City crews will record anywhere they see smoke, snap photos and take measurements so a homeowner can know exactly where a leak occurred.

Normal drain traps should block the smoke from entering a home, but if smoke does make its way inside, it is a clue that a licensed plumber may need to take a closer look.  While the smoke won’t hurt anything, it could be possible that sewer gas could enter a home the same way.

If a smoke test is scheduled to be performed in your neighborhood, you will know about it. Door hangers are placed on the front door of every building on the streets to be smoke tested at least 24 to 48 hours in advance.

You will also know whether any smoke you’re seeing is related to the testing. All city personnel are uniformed and carry identification badges. Crew members also operate from vehicles with the city logo.