A nose can be a powerful investigative tool.
In fact, the Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) depends on odor complaints to help them locate problems with the system.
“If you’re smelling something, we want to know about it,” said authority executive director Janine Burke.
She said the source of a foul odor could be an overflow, or a broken or clogged pipe. The source of the odor, usually hydrogen sulfide gas, is generated by deteriorating organic material and can also be destructive.
“It can eat away at pipes,” said Burke.
The gas is deemed responsible for the damage caused to the Cedar Swamp pumping station – one of the city’s largest – that took several months and more than $2 million to repair.
Odor complaints are logged and pinpointed on a map so the authority gets a clue about potential problems underground.
But the crew dispatched to a complaint July 17 was surprised by what they found.
In the mayor’s office, Receptionist Betty Smith logged the call from a Manning Street resident in Oakland Beach at 10:09 a.m. The resident complained of odors entering the home from the air conditioner. There was only one word that described the smell, and Smith recorded the complainant’s words, just as she heard them.
“Odor busters” Vincent Russo Jr., Joseph Colicchio and assistant superintendent Scott Goodinson were dispatched, arriving at 12:45 p.m. The first discovery was that the odor was coming from a storm drain, not a sewer line. Road drainage systems come under the authority of the Public Works Department.
“We try to help each other out,” Burke said, explaining that a DPW crew was not immediately available to address the problem, so they decided to help. It didn’t take the authority crew long to identify the source of the smell: They found a collection of fish heads. The crew moved to a second connecting drain to find more fish parts. The pair then did their own fishing, removing the carcasses and other debris, which they followed by hosing down and disinfecting the drains.
By 3 p.m. the work was done. It was safe for area residents to turn on their air conditioners again.
Burke was proud of the service the authority crew had performed but was annoyed by what some thoughtless person had done.
“It’s a storm drain, not a garbage disposal,” she said.