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Where There’s Smoke, There Are Sewers

Sewer | Smoke Testing | Sewer System

At least in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Both cities will be using smoke to test sewers for areas where rain or groundwater might be entering and overloading the system.

ST. PETERSBURG/CLEARWATER – The cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater will be using smoke testing in the coming weeks to help detect defects in their sewer systems.

Defects, such as leaks or broken pipes, allow rain and groundwater to seep into the system.That un-needed – and illegal – water intrusion could be coming from roof leaders, cross connections between the wastewater and stormwater systems, driveway and yard drains, damage to the wastewater system, compromised cleanouts, loose joints in the wastewater pipes, and other places, according to the city of St. Petersburg. Inflow can lead to sanitary sewer overflows that have become problematic over the past two years in St. Petersburg.

Saying that smoke testing has been used for years to detect flaws. St. Petersburg explains how it works: Crews position a blower at a manhole and blow smoke down into it.The smoke then travels down the sewer and follows the “path of least resistance.” If there are any openings along the way, some of the smoke will escape through the openings. Smoke may appear to be coming from holes in the ground or vent stacks on houses. After blowing smoke into the line, the city crew will look to see where smoke is escaping.

Both St. Petersburg and Clearwater say the smoke is safe.

“It’s kinda like the smoke you’d see at a concert or large stage production,” St. Petersburg said. “The smoke – manufactured specifically for this purpose – is odorless and is not hazardous, toxic, or flammable. While it could make you cough, it is not harmful to your health.

“The smoke will not harm clothing, drapes, or furniture. The smoke is also not harmful to your pets or plants. Smoke that gets in buildings dissipates quickly and leaves no residue or stains. If smoke enters a residence through cracks in the indoor plumbing, there is also potential for sewer gas to enter the residence. In such instances, the homeowner should immediately call a plumber to repair the problem.”

St. Petersburg offers these tips:

  • When you are notified that smoke testing is going to occur in your neighborhood you should make sure that all traps under basins (including garage sinks), washing facilities, and floor drains have water in them. This can be done by pouring three cups of water in them or running the faucet for 60 seconds. This will help prevent smoke from entering your home.
  • If you have pets and are not going to be home when smoke testing is being conducted, it would be a good idea to leave several windows partially open for ventilation, should any smoke enter the building.
  • Smoke should not enter your house. If it does, it may be an indication of a defect in your plumbing. This defect could allow sewer gases to enter your house. Sewer gases can be a health hazard.
  • The correction of these defects in your plumbing is the responsibility of the homeowner. A licensed plumber should be consulted to make the corrections properly.

In St. Petersburg:

Officials said they will notify residents of the dates workers will be testing the sanitary sewer system by using door hangars, notices on and other public outreach including the city’s Twitter feed @StPetePW.  If smoke gets into the house, contact the St. Petersburg water resources department at (727) 893-5663, then open your windows for ventilation. The smoke will soon dissipate. For information, contact Bill Logan at St. Petersburg Public Works communications,  (727) 893-7250.

In Clearwater:

Clearwater public utilities professionals will begin smoke testing of wastewater sewer system lines in various neighborhoods next week. The goal is to locate potential areas where stormwater or groundwater might be entering the system. Testing will be conducted in the following areas according to this schedule:

Tuesday (Jan. 3) to Friday (Jan. 6):
Portions of central Clearwater that are bounded by the areas of Murray Avenue (west), Montclair Road (north), Belcher Road (east), and area running along the railroad line just north of the Clearwater Air Park (south).
Portions of Sunset Point Road within the above-listed boundary area and Windsor Park.

Jan. 9 to 13:
Portions of central Clearwater that are bounded by the areas of Hercules Avenue (west) and U.S. 19 (east), with testing points as far north as the Top of the World Golf Course and as far south as Logan Street.
Areas north of Sunset Point and west of U.S. 19 within the above-listed boundary area

Jan. 16 to 27:
Area bounded by Starcrest Drive (west), Drew Street (north), South Fernwood Avenue (east), and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard (south).
Area bounded by Richards Avenue (west), just south of the railroad tracks near Sherwood Street (north), Belcher Road (east), and Drew Street (south).
Portions of Hercules Avenue, Northeast Coachman Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard within the above-listed boundary area.

Smoke testing is expected to continue through late January in Clearwater. The schedule may be modified as weather dictates. For information, Clearwater residents should call (727) 442-7196 for English or (727) 562-4960, ext. 7261 for Spanish. For information about Clearwater, go to

St. Pete | Clearwater | Sewer System | Sewer Testing | Smoke Test | TB Reporter

St. Pete | Clearwater | Sewer System | Sewer Testing | Smoke Test | TB Reporter