'I couldn’t breathe': Chesapeake neighbors alarmed by heavy smoke leaders say caused by testing

Posted at 9:18 PM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 22:22:02-05

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Sarah Neal was home alone when she noticed something white and hazy coming from the guest room upstairs.

“It was very thick in there, and I couldn’t breathe. It smelled really strong, so I was like, 'That’s kind of unusual,'" Neal said.

She immediately called her dad.

“I had her run downstairs and turn off the power and the gas,” adds her father, Paul Neal.

Then she called 911.

When Chesapeake firefighters arrived to the home on San Pedro Drive, they told her it wasn’t a fire.

“They come outside and say, ‘Everything is fine; it was just the smoke testing,'" she says.

Smoke testing is a routine inspection the city does to make sure the sanitary sewage system is working properly.

“We blow smoke into two manholes, and that smoke fills up the sewer line, so then that smoke runs up the line to each house,” says David Jurgens, the city's Utilities Director.

He says the harmless smoke in your home during the testing is completely normal - only if it comes out of certain parts of the house.

“If the smoke doesn’t come out of the drain - if it comes out of somewhere else - then there is a pluming problem and someone should take a look at it,” he adds.

Jurgens says you may see smoke coming out of areas outside the house, like the sewer cleanout.

“Everybody in Hampton Roads does this type of testing.”

He adds that these tests are nothing new; they have been taking place for decades.

“Nowadays, more people are staying home because of COVID, so we are having more contacts like that because more people are aware,” Jurgens adds.

The City of Chesapeake did place door hanger notices at each house informing them about the testing. Some say they could’ve done a bit more.

“Perhaps an email from the city or a phone blast or something would’ve helped,” adds Neal.

If you see or smell something odd - “It was pretty sweet smelling. It was a weird smelling smoke," said Sarah Neal - leaders says you can call the city at 757-382-3403 or the fire department to be safe.

For the upcoming testing schedule in Chesapeake, click here.