Going the Extra Mile

By: Tim Brown, Foreman for the USDA South Atlantic Area

May 2012


Recently we had an incident here at Russell Research Center in Athens Thermal Image of Cracked Pipewhere we had problems with a strong sewer smell in a couple of our labs. We inspected the piping and initially couldn't find the problem.

A few months earlier, we repaired a cracked pipe in the same area and thought it was possibly seeping out around some of the no hub bands, but after further inspection, we didn't find any leaks. We noticed that there was a pattern in which the smell only occurred on certain days of the week. We then realized these were the days when the research units on the floors above were autoclaving meat samples.

We decided to smoke the piping system the following week when the units normally do all autoclaving. What we found amazed us. There was approximately a 20' crack in the extra heavy cast pipe that couldn't be seen until the pipe heated up and expanded. What caused this?

We realized the pipe seemed excessively hot for sanitary sewer. We performed a thermal survey of all the piping that was connected to the dishwashers and autoclaves.

A few years back, during the drought, the mixing valves were cut back on the autoclaves and dishwashers to conserve water. The company performing this task never checked the discharge temperature. The lab waste piping was reaching temperatures in excess of 200 degrees Fahrenheit with piping that is rated for a maximum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This caused the pipes to expand and crack.

Thanks again to our thermal imaging cameras – they continue to prove to be a valuable piece of equipment as we were able to give the customer and subcontractor visual evidence of the problem. We are also blessed with dedicated FSE employees who take the time to perform root-cause analysis to not just fix the problem, but find out what caused it in order to prevent future reoccurrences.