Sealing the Deal

Contractor gives municipalities more options in the fight against unwanted storm flow.

Sealing the Deal

Jarrod Vobornik monitors the air pressure for a pipe pig while setting up to smoke test a section of sewer with Stephen Moore (left) and Eric Sisson. 

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When Kerry Roslinski founded Pipe-Eye Sewer Services in 2003, acrylamide chemical grouting was not yet a widely accepted method for rehabilitating manholes and sewer lines. Nonetheless, offering that service came as naturally to him as tree roots growing in a sewer lateral — and proved instrumental to his company’s success.

“When I started my business, I knew chemical grouting would work hand in hand with cleaning and inspecting sewers,” he says. “Grouting is a very cost-effective way to rehabilitate pipes as opposed to replacing pipes, and it lasts a long time.”

Roslinski wasn’t afraid to embrace chemical-grouting technology because he’d had experience with it at jobs he held before he founded his Pennsylvania-based company. And being among the first in the Bradford area to offer the service gave him a big advantage because the technology is expensive, which makes it harder for competitors to enter the market.

Chemical grouting and an ancillary service, smoke and dye testing, make up nearly half of Pipe-Eye Sewer Services’ business. Municipal sewer cleaning and inspection accounts for the balance. Roslinski estimates the company has grouted about 4,000 manholes and other structures within the company’s service territory, which includes northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York.

Roslinski literally was born into the sewer-cleaning and rehab industry. His late father, Joseph, was Bradford’s public works director for 35 years. Even the company name stretches back to Roslinski’s childhood. When he was about 11 years old, he fell and landed on a pipe, which left a half-moon scar under one eye. “So kids at school nicknamed me ‘Pipe Eye,’” Roslinski explains. “It’s very ironic … and that’s why in our logo, we use an eye for the dash in ‘Pipe-Eye.’”

Chemical grouting 101

First developed about 50 years ago, chemical grouting is the oldest trenchless method for stopping groundwater infiltration into structurally sound sewer systems. Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy indicate that the half-life of properly applied acrylamide grout is more than 300 years.

For those unfamiliar with chemical grouting, here’s how it works: Technicians mechanically pull a remotely controlled device called a packer — essentially an inflatable plug made of heavy-duty rubber — to the location of a leak in a sewer line. The packer is attached to hoses that supply both grout and compressed air.

When the packer is in place, it injects the grout under high pressure. The grout then passes through the leaking spot, perhaps a failed joint or a crack in the pipe, and into the surrounding soil outside the pipe. After it cures, it creates a durable seal, or collar, that adheres to the pipe’s exterior. As the packer is removed, it scrapes off any excess grout that’s still inside the line.

The grout does more than just seal cracks or gaps in sewer lines; it also seals, stabilizes, and gels with the soil around it, even filling voids that often occur after backfilling during initial sewer installations. Some consider grouting superior to pipe lining because it doesn’t rely on a bond between a liner and the pipe.

More and more often, grouting is used in conjunction with pipe lining, he points out. “We usually go through first and grout the joints, then they line it, then we come back and grout the (reinstated) laterals,” he explains.

While it’s not 100 percent foolproof, Roslinski says grouting is a very effective way to resolve inflow and infiltration. “Let’s be honest: We can’t keep sewer lines completely water-free,” he says. “Water finds a way to get in, no matter what. But we can limit it. The main idea is to drastically reduce the amount of water getting treated.”

Tools for success

Pipe-Eye Sewer Services handles the work with three camera/grout trucks built by CUES, equipped with Graco grout pumps and Logiball grouting systems. The company uses grout made by Avanti International. Two of the trucks feature lateral inspection and lateral and mainline grouting capabilities. For inspections, crews use CUES Ultra Shorty tracked cameras.

The company relies on a smoke-testing machine made by Cherne; a manhole rehabilitation machine made by Strong Mfg. Co.; Strong-Seal cementitious spray for manhole rehab work made by The Strong Co.; and epros spot-repair lining technology from Trelleborg Pipe Seals.

Pipe-Eye Sewer Services also owns three Hi-Vac Aquatech jet/vac trucks and sewer cleaning and inspection tools from RIDGID, CST/berger, StoneAge and KEG Technologies.

“One of my big things is that I stick with the same equipment all the time,” Roslinski says, explaining his philosophy about investing in new equipment. “Because we stick with the same equipment, our guys know it inside and out.

“Customers demand the most updated technology, so we’re constantly striving to keep up with it. Companies that fail to do so run the risk of losing customers to competitors who do keep up with the latest technology.”

High-pressure fix

One of the company’s toughest jobs wasn’t necessarily the biggest in scope, as it centered on a roughly 2-inch-wide gap around about half of a 12-inch influent sewer line as it entered about a 10-foot-deep manhole in Wellsville. But the water rushing through the gap at about 60 to 80 gpm is what made the job extremely difficult, Roslinski says.

“Under NASSCO’s four definitions of infiltration, this one would’ve been rated as a ‘gusher’ times three,” he notes. “It wasn’t the biggest job we’ve ever done, but the volume and pressure of the water flow made it very challenging. There was a lot of hydraulic pressure, which made it imperative to use a pneumatic grout pump.”

To stop the leak, technicians first filled the void with oakum, rope impregnated with tar or a tar derivative. That reduced the flow by about 50 percent, as well as provided a barrier to hold in the grout. After drilling holes in the manhole around the area that was leaking, technicians used a Graco pneumatic pump (rated at about 60 psi) to inject the grout, Roslinski explains.

“We did what’s called curtain grouting, in which we layer the grout in there,” he says. “We inject an appropriate amount of grout, let it set up for 20 to 25 seconds, then continuously repeat that process over and over and over again until the water stops leaking through. Then we used hydraulic cement to bring the repaired area flush with the manhole wall.”

The repair saved the municipality a significant amount of money related to unnecessary stormwater treatment. A sewer leak of 60 gallons of water per minute allows 86,400 gpd to infiltrate the storm sewer in question. Using the average per-gallon cost of stormwater treatment back in 2012, the year the repair was made, the municipality was easily spending in excess of $3,000 a day on treating water that shouldn’t even be in the system, Roslinski points out.

Manholes and laterals

Grouting projects have steadily increased again during the last three years in Pipe-Eye Sewer Services’ service area. One primary contributor: More and more smaller communities and municipalities are receiving consent orders from state officials to stop inflow and infiltration that’s causing sewer overflows, which in turn create potential environmental hazards for creeks, streams, rivers and the like, Roslinski says.

Pipe-Eye Sewer Services typically starts with smoke and dye testing to determine sources of inflow from illegal drain hookups, as well as sewer line leaks, followed by camera inspections where needed. Then the company grouts either sewer lines or laterals or a combination of both, depending on the municipality’s needs and budget.

Roslinski says he often urges municipal officials focused more on sewer lines for inflow and infiltration to not overlook manholes and laterals. “We can drill and grout structurally sound manholes that might be leaking 25 to 60 gallons of water per minute and get instantaneous results with chemical grouting,” he says. “We can do at least three manholes a day, depending on the volume of the leaks.”

“And if that same manhole is a precast or brick manhole with poor structural integrity, then we come in with our Strong (manhole machine) trailer and apply a cementitious coating up to an inch thick, and you end up with a new manhole,” he continues. “We have many, many communities in my neck of the woods in northwest Pennsylvania where we do as many manholes in a year that we can do for ‘x’ amount of dollars. So maybe we do 50 or 60 manholes year. That helps them fulfill their consent order from the state — shows they’re making a good faith effort toward eliminating I&I.”

Critical factors

Roslinski says educating municipal officials who aren’t familiar with grouting, or have erroneous perceptions of it, is one key to success. “Many don’t understand that as long as pipes are structurally sound, you can get three times more work done with grouting compared to the same amount spent on pipe lining.”

Proper training is critical, too. Along with staying current on technological advances by attending trade shows, such as the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show, Roslinski recommends Municipal Sewer Grout Schools held in various cities around the country and co-sponsored by industry manufacturers such as Avanti International, Logiball, CUES and Aries Industries. (For details, visit

“You can’t just jump into it,” he cautions. “You need experienced workers and training. Grouting is not like running a sewer camera or a water jetter. Every year, the equipment gets more technologically advanced and computer-oriented.”

Looking ahead, Roslinski plans to continue investing in new equipment, which he says is imperative to remaining competitive, despite the financial risks involved.

“I also see the grouting market getting bigger, at least in my neck of the woods,” he adds. “Grouting is making a resurgence. … We’re banking on grouting and manhole rehab work.”

Equipment and people are both critical, Roslinski says. No mater how nice the equipment is, it takes great employees to operate it. “Our guys make things happen out in the field every day,” he notes. “They do an excellent job.”


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