GARDEN CITY -- Some Garden City residents are raising concerns over a process called smoke testing. They're worried it could be harmful to the health of the entire community. But the mayor says it's safe, widely used by other cities like Ontario, and actually helps protect people from another health hazard.
Charlie Smith has lived in Garden City for more than a decade, but says two weeks ago was the first time she had heard of something called smoke testing, which according to flyers on her door, was scheduled to happen in her neighborhood. She got worried. Prior to my son's brain cancer diagnosis 12 years ago, I probably would not have called them and been concerned.
Smoke testing is an annual process where the city pumps a vapor (or smoke) into parts of the sewer system, allowing workers to spot leaks and blockages in pipes, and allowing homeowners to potentially spot leaks in their homes. The vapor is said to be non-toxic, but Smith points out that it is partially made up of zinc chloride and carbon monoxide (both of which can be hazardous) and other chemicals.
Smith says she wants more information. I want a list of everything that is in these two products that they have been using for several years here. Not just a couple ingredients, everything.
John Evans has been Garden City's mayor for nine years and served on the city council for a decade before that. He says he has never heard a health complaint connected to smoke testing and says the vapor is safe. Smoke testing with these types of products is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Evans says while the vapor does contain potentially hazardous materials, he says there are only trace amounts. You're getting trace elements of carbon monoxide when you get out of your car in the garage on the way into the house. There's arsenic in the water in trace amounts.
The mayor says, at most, exposure would cause some eye irritation. He also says the vapor would only be in someone's home if there is a sewer gas leak. Sewer gas has hydrogen sulfide, which is very dangerous.
If someone's going to be worried about something getting into their home from the sewer system it should be hydrogen sulfide, says Evans. That is highly toxic.
Evans says he will suspend the smoke testing until he can meet with the homeowners association of the concerned neighborhood in the next week or two to hopefully calm their fears. He says if they bring forward a credible study raising health concerns, he'll review the whole process.
Meanwhile, Smith says she thinks it's great the city was testing the infrastructure, but believes there is a safer way to do it.