Don't become overly alarmed if you notice smoke rising from the ground, from manhole covers or even from rooftops in some east Allentown neighborhoods next week.
Beginning Monday, Lehigh County Authority will be doing "smoke testing" on sanitary sewer lines in the city.
The testing is done to find leaks in the sewer system.
Smoke, described by LCA as harmless and non-flammable, will be pumped into the system.
It 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.
Also, 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.
Areas scheduled for the first 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.
Those 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 to reduce leakage into the sanitary sewer system.
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 those neighborhoods.
However, residents who aren’t sure if the smoke they are seeing is part of this project should call 9-1-1 and report it.
The city's fire department and police also were notified so they are aware in case emergency calls come in.
The project is expected to be completed by Aug. 8.
Rainwater leaking into the sanitary sewer system can cause sewer overflows during severe storms.
Smoke testing is just one step LCA is taking to investigate the problem since assuming operational responsibility for the city's sanitary sewer system last year, as a result of a 50-year lease of the water and sewer systems.
In addition to the smoke-testing project, LCA has completed extensive preventative maintenance on the sewer system since the lease transition occurred on Aug. 8, 2013.
That 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.
LCA reminds residents that maintaining a healthy sewer system is a community effort.
Steps they can take to prevent backups and sewer overflows include:
• 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.