R’boro to smoke test its sewer lines

By Lauren Williams Staff Writer

March 12, 2014

After experiencing some sewer troubles over the past few months, the town of Roseboro is taking steps to resolve those issues. The first step will begin next week with testing the integrity of Roseboro’s sewer lines by conducting smoking tests throughout various sections of town.

The town has called on the North Carolina Rural Water Association (NCRWA) to perform the needed smoking tests; the association will supply the blower machine and the operator while the town will pay for the liquid smoke used in the tests.

The tests will help “show any cracks or busted lines we’ve got,” said David Phillips, Roseboro’s public works director.

“They (NCRWA workers) will force the smoke in the sewer lines to check for any cracks or breaks,” echoed town clerk Nancy Lindsay, explaining that damage to the lines can be caused by tree roots, come from cracked joints, or simply stem from a clean-out being left uncapped.

According to Phillips, the latter is common, particularly on empty lots.

“There’s no way to go around and check all of them,” he said of the clean-out caps, mentioning just one of the many reasons town officials feel the smoke tests are needed.

The tests, which are likely to last from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, are scheduled for Monday, March 17; Monday, March 24; and Thursday, March 27, and town residents and businesses have been informed about what to expect, including the sight of smoke coming from vent stacks on buildings and from holes in the ground.

According to information provided to residents by the town, the smoke used in the tests is liquid, has no odor, and will not cause any harm; it is non-toxic, non-staining, not a fire hazard, and goes away quickly.

However, Roseboro officials are asking residents to please notify the town’s public work and utilities department of any of the following situations before the tests are conducted: Dogs, birds, or other pets that will be confined alone in a building during the tests; a person who will be alone and is invalid or will be sleeping during the test; any individuals with respiratory problems who will be in the building during testing; and elderly persons who will be alone and might be alarmed or confused by the sight of smoke.

“The main thing is don’t be alarmed,” remarked Phillips, mentioning that smoke tests were last performed on the town’s sewer lines in the early 2000s. “When we did it then, we had (concerned) people calling from everywhere.”

The testing will likely start in the area around the fire department on E. Pleasant Street, Lindsay noted. “That’s an area with known issues so we want to start there first.”

One of those known issues is at the fire department itself.

“They’ve been having back-ups,” said Phillips, explaining that the sewer line at the fire department is actually a paper pipe, a type of pipe frequently used in the thirties and forties, and is located under the building which, because it is an older building, was only about a foot off the ground, making the lines virtually inaccessible now and hard to service. “It will help us see where it (the problem) is coming from…Hopefully it’s not under the building.”

“We really want to see what shape our sewer lines are in,” said Lindsay, explaining that, if there are defects in the sewer lines, rain water can enter which can increase the flow and the amount of water being treated at the town’s waste water treatment plant.

“It’s really about efficiency,” she added, noting that the town doesn’t need to spend its money and resources treating rain water.

During the tests, smoke shouldn’t enter any buildings, but should it do so, the sign of smoke could mean that there are defects in the building’s plumbing, an issue which should be looked into as such defects could also allow dangerous sewer gases to also enter the building.

By conducting the tests, “homeowners and the town will have an idea of what’s going on,” stressed Phillips.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at