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Niles testing local sewers by pumping in smoke

If you see the smoke coming out of the ground over the next few weeks, don’t worry. The world isn’t ending. It’s just the Village of Niles Department of Public Services testing its sewers.

Smoke testing allows the village to find leaks, cracks and other sewer damage that would otherwise be hard to detect. The smoke isn’t dangerous, but if it enters a home, it shows that something far more dangerous may already be leaking into the building. If that happens, residents are strongly urged to notify the work crews as soon as possible.

Smoke-testing has been used to find leaks in sewers since the late 19th century. According to Scott Jochim, director of the Department of Public Services, Niles has done smoke-testing before, approximately 20 years ago. This time, the village has contracted Chicago-based Hey and Associates Inc., a water resources consulting agency, to help handle the project.

Testing for leaks serves several purposes. It helps keep rain water and ground water from entering the sewers, which can put a strain on sewer pipes and sewage treatment facilities. And according to Jochim, finding and plugging the leaks could prevent sewer back-ups and help reduce flooding.

“We are looking for undetected cross connections between the sanitary and storm sewers,” he said. “By eliminating these, we can hopefully reduce flooding in basements — assuming we find some.”

The village will be smoke-testing the sewers section by section. The crews will hang notices on the doors of all the buildings within the testing area before the actual testing starts. However, according to the statement on the Niles website, the testing may be postponed due to bad weather.

Ideally, the smoke would never enter the homes. But if it does, it would indicate that there is a leak inside the building and dangerous sewer gases may be seeping into the house. Public Services is urging residents to report the smoke as soon as they see it — either to the crews working outside or by calling (262) 366-5879.

Jochim didn’t think the test would impact too many property owners.

“We have no idea how many homes may have smoke entering their homes,” he said. “Last time, we had one or two homes that reported smoke.”

If plumbing issues are discovered, it will be up to the property owner to fix them. But Jochim told Niles Herald-Spectator that the issues may be easy to fix.

“[It] could be as simple as pouring water in the drain,” he said.

Jochim emphasized that spoke wasn’t dangerous. But according to the village statement, it may affect people with respiratory problems. If anyone who has mobility and respiratory problems lives in the building within the testing area, Public Services is encouraging them to contact the village before the testing begins.

Because of potential weather-related delays, the village hasn’t set concrete dates, but Public Services expects the tests to run though October and wrap up by mid-November.

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