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Warwick Sewer Authority ‘Smoke Test’ Wednesday Morning Seeks Odor’s Source

Warwick City Hall

Editor’s note: The headline of this story has been edited to correct the day of the test, which was Wednesday, Jan. 18. Warwick Post regrets the failure to consult a calendar. 

WARWICK, RI — The mystery cause of odors from sewer lines along Cedar Swamp Road, a long-time source of area residents’ complaints, may soon be uncovered as the Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) conducts a “smoke test” of the system there.

Janine Burke-Wells, WSA’s Executive Director, said her office has received complaints about odors in the area for the last nine years.

In fall of 2011, a sewer line on Cedar Swamp Road, corroded by hydrogen sulfide, collapsed. The corrosive gas, which smells like rotten eggs, also generated complaints from neighbors.

Following the collapse, the WSA installed odor control chemicals at three pump stations, removed an obstruction that was causing hydrogen sulfide buildup, adjusted pumping frequencies to prevent stagnant wastes, flushed the lines there, added carbon filters and sent staff to investigate complaints.

Those efforts were focused on controlling the odors. Now, “We would like to prevent the odors, if possible,” she said.

Doing that requires finding potential breaches in the system, which is where the smoke test comes in. The WSA has hired Tighe & Bond, Inc., to conduct the tests, which will begin at about 8:30 a.m. The testing will cost the city $11,000.

Smoke testing involves blowing smoke into the sewer lines to reveal places where odors may be escaping the sewer system, according to a release from the WSA. During the testing, gray smoke may exit through vent pipes on roofs of homes, roof leaders, yard drains and leaks in the sewer line.

According to a release from the WSA announcing the testing, the smoke is made for this purpose and has a distinctive but not unpleasant odor.  It is NON-TOXIC, LEAVES NO RESIDUE OR STAINS, IS SAFE FOR PLANTS AND ANIMALS, AND CREATES NO FIRE HAZARD.  The smoke lasts only a few minutes if there is adequate ventilation.  If you suffer from lung or respiratory ailments, please contact us at the number below for special service.

Because the plumbing in your house or building is connected to the sewer system, smoke may enter your house if:

  • Vents connected to your building’s sewer pipes are inadequate, defective or improperly installed.
  • Traps under sinks, tubs, basins, showers and other drains are dry, defective, improperly installed or missing.
  • Wastewater pipes, connections, and seals in and under your building are damaged, defective, have plugs missing or are improperly installed.

If you have a seldom-used drain, please pour a gallon of water in the drain to fill the drain trap. This will keep smoke from entering your home through the drain.

If traces of this smoke enter your house or building, it is an indication that gases and odors from the sewer may also enter.  Correcting the entry source is urgently advised.  If you observe smoke in your home, ventilate the house and immediately call it to the attention of the testing crew.

Burke-Wells said the WSA has also posted a form online for people to report odors from the sewer system at She said the WSA is especially interested in the time of day the odor occurs. WSA odor letter

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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