Every time you flush a disposable wet wipe down the toilet, just imagine sewer workers screaming, “Nooooo!” That’s because no one wants to battle a monster “fatberg” of the sort currently blocking London’s sewers.
If you thought a fatberg the size of a 747 was impressive, you ain’t seen nothing yet: Thames Water workers have embarked on a three-week “sewer war” against a massive, hardened chunk — made of wet wipes, fat, condoms, diapers, and sanitary products — that’s currently blocking a section of sewer the length of almost three (American) football fields.
The Whitechapel fatberg is one of the largest ever found, the agency says, with the extreme rock-solid mass weighing in at 130 metric tons, or the same as 11 double decker buses.
“This fatberg is up there with the biggest we’ve ever seen. It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard,” said Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, who adds that it’s “like trying to break up concrete.”
An eight-person crew is using high-powered jet hoses to break up the mass before sucking it out with tankers. That material will then be hauled to a recycling site.
During an eight-to-five workday, workers will remove an average of 20 to 30 metric tons per shift.
Fatbergs can wreak havoc aboveground, too, Rimmer notes.
“It’s fortunate in this case that we’ve only had to close off a few parking bays to get to the sewer,” he notes. “Often we have to shut roads entirely, which can cause widespread disruption – especially in London.”
Just like his American counterparts, who have begged citizens not to flush disposable wipes, Rimmer says it’s frustrating as these situations are “totally avoidable and caused by fat, oil, and grease being washed down sinks and wipes flushed down the loo.”
Instead of sending this stuff into the city’s sewers, folks should dispose of them in the garbage.
“When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play,” Rimmer says. “Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish and our message to everyone is clear – please ‘Bin it – don’t block it’.”