Gloversville officials prepare public for ‘smoke test’

GLOVERSVILLE — Gloversville city officials are using social media to alert residents and city businesses that engineers hired as part of Fulton County’s $8.7 million sewer line extension project will begin a “smoke test” of the city’s sewer infrastructure next week, which may result in a non-toxic white vapor rising out of some basement sewer drains, roof vents or sinks and bathtubs, but only in buildings that have stormwater drainage lines that improperly connect to the sanitary sewer system.

Gloversville Department of Public Works Directors Donald Schwartz said the smoke test no longer uses “smoke,” and is instead a fine “mist or fog.” He said the test is a common practice done in many municipalities to find “weak spots in the infrastructure, broken lines, improperly connected areas of the city,” and poses no danger to the public.

“Essentially what they’re going to do — on either July 5 or July 6 — they’re going to start north of city hall, take a manhole cover off, and they have a plate that they will put over the manhole cover, and it’s a fan-system, driven by a small, almost like a lawnmower engine,” Schwartz said. “Attached to that is a container of the mineral oil-like substance. They will start the motor and put a little bit of pressure onto the liquid, and then it blows it into the sewer system. It’s not a high-pressure system. It’s very passive, and it won’t push through drain traps in your house, as long as there is water in them.”

Schwartz said people in Gloversville should know that the white mist pumped into the sewer systems is not dangerous for people or animals to breathe, won’t raise the pressure in any pipes, but should reveal which of the city’s catch basins have storm water drainage lines that run into the sewer sanitary system, which during times of high rainfall can overload the sewer lines with stormwater, which is costly for the Gloversville Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility to needlessly treat.

“The only place that (the white mist) should come out, if it comes out at all, at a house is a roof vent,” Schwartz said. “People will see it coming out of manhole covers, and storm drains (and city catch basins) it shouldn’t come out of. So, one of the things they are looking for is when stormwater is entering our sewers, because they are not supposed to be connected. So, when they detect these compromised areas, we will be repairing them.”

Travis Mitchell, of the engineering firm Environmental Design Partnership, said his company is designing Fulton County’s project to use $8.7 million of the $10.4 million provided to the county as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. He said the first phase of the project includes money to extend the treatment facility’s sewer lines about seven miles to the Village of Mayfield.

Mitchell said Fulton County will be using funding from the $8.7 million sewer line extension project to pay for repairs and upgrades to Gloversville’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure. He said the smoke test will give the engineers working on the project a good idea of where the problem areas are, and then the repairs will likely be done in 2023. He said Fulton County is seeking additional state and federal grant funding to extend the sewer lines up to Northville, which will likely expand the total project cost to about $30 million.

Mitchell said the smoke test will be conducted in “two-day increments” several times throughout the summer until the city has identified the storm water lines it needs to disconnect from the sewer infrastructure.

“Right now, the [wastewater facility] has plenty of ‘dry-weather capacity,’ but if we get a large enough rain storm the sewer pipes get close to their capacity, and that eventually can lead to overflows out of the gravity sewer system,” Mitchell said. “It’s a harmless smoke, but if it does get into your home, that’s a sign that you’ve potentially got sewer gas going into your home, because something in your home is open to the system that should not be open to the system. So, if you do get it in your house, the best thing is to open the windows and ventilate it and get out as soon as you can. Whatever streets they are on, there will be guys working and making observations, and you can notify someone.”

Schwartz said it’s his understanding that Gloversville’s city code currently prohibits storm water drains in buildings from connecting to the sanitary sewer system, but it’s possible that some buildings still have them and they should be “capped.”

“People can notify [the city Depart,emt of Public Works] or my people, and we’ll take a look at it and help them identify what the issue, and help them move on from there,” Mitchell said.  

Residents may reach the Department of Public Works by phoning 518-773-4556 or by emailing [email protected]

By Jason Subik

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