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A Tale of Fatbergs and FOG

Cook. Eat. Dispose.

Post Date:11/21/2017 12:00 PM

In September of this year, news outlets reported widely on a monstrous fatberg that was discovered in the Victorian-era sewer tunnels  under Whitechapel—a neighborhood in London’s East End—by Thames Water, the utility responsible for maintaining London’s water and wastewater services.

A fatberg—the word was coined in the United Kingdom and added in 2015 to the Oxford University Press website,—is defined as a very large mass of solid waste in a sewage system, consisting especially of congealed fat and personal hygiene products that have been flushed down toilets.

And this fatberg was one for the record books.

According to a Thames Water news release, the fatberg was one of the largest ever found at more than 800 feet long and weighing an estimated 130 metric tons of rock-solid wet wipes, fats and oils, and other materials.

At EID, we often put out reminders about FOG—fats, oils, and grease—and the damage it can do to our sanitary sewer system. But it’s important to remember that non-biodegradable items that are flushed down toilets and rinsed down sinks that do not break down (or do not break down fast enough) can form rock-hard blockages in the sewer system-fatbergs can occur!

Throughout the year—and especially during the holidays—people pour the byproducts of cooking down the sink drain. Fats, (cooking) oils, and grease can coat and clog pipes and cause sewer lines to back up into homes. That could mean costly clean-up and repair costs. FOG can also cause blockages further down sewer lines. And that can result in overflows or sewage backups into yards or streets, creating a public health risk.

The oil making its way to wastewater treatment plants can also disrupt treatment processes and add to the need for maintenance.

To prevent these problems, we encourage you to dispose of your leftover FOG properly, and be mindful of never flushing inappropriate things down the toilet. That means anything other than pee, poo, and (toilet) paper should not be flushed!

Here are some general suggestions that can help prevent sewer trouble for you and your neighbors.

  • Place cooled cooking oil, poultry, and meat fats into sealed non-recyclable containers and discard with your regular garbage
  • Use paper towels to wipe residual grease or oil off of dishes, pots, and pans before washing them then toss towels in the trash
  • Do not flush wipes (even if they say flushable, they are not)
  • Diapers and/or sanitary products should never go down the toilet

Visit our Fats, Oil, & Grease (FOG), Don't Trash Your Drain,  and Disposing of Unused and Expired Medications webpages for helpful tips and reminders on how to keep sewers systems flowing without costly cleanups.

This article was featured in the November / December 2017 issue of The Waterfront.