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London’s Giant “Fatberg” Is Another Example of Modern Sewer System Woes

In highly populated cities such as London and New York, a hidden menace known as “fatbergs” lurk beneath the streets and threaten overly strained waste management systems. Disposable wet wipes combine with fats, oils and grease in sewers to form these disgusting lumps of toxic sludge.

Millions of liters of used cooking oil is produced each year, and unfortunately in many cases is not properly disposed of. It may seem inconsequential to pour hot oil down the drain after cooking your favorite meal, but oil solidifies into a greasy mess when it hits cold underground sewers. When you multiply that millions of times over, it’s easy to see how FOG (fats, oils and grease) dumped down the drain can cause major problems. Indeed the New York Times estimated that between 2013 and 2014 clearing up FOG backups in the sewers cost the city $4.65 million.

If you ask this plumber in Costa Mesa, the costs of New York City’s sewer maintenance is trivial compared to the massive fatberg recently removed from a London sewer. The fatberg was nearly 40 meters long, and at a weight of almost ten tons was so heavy that it broke the roughly 70-year-old sewer pipe where it was discovered. Repairs took approximately two months and cost London taxpayers about $600,000. Stephen Hunt, who oversaw the fatberg’s removal, stated that the utility company also had to replace nearly 100 feet of pipe in total.

As discussed in one of our previous blogs, wet wipes exacerbate the issue of FOG backups in sewer systems. The main issue is that although many wipes are labelled as ‘disposable’ or ‘flushable’, neither of these terms equate to being biodegradable. Wet wipes are specifically designed to be robust by using strong fibers to retain their shape even when wet and soiled. Once they arrive in the sewers, these wipes float on top of the wastewater, where they absorb oils and grease from the surface and clump together to form dense fatbergs.

Any knowledgeable plumber in Costa Mesa would advise people to discontinue the practice of flushing wet wipes down the toilet. As Rob Smith from London’s Thames Water said, “Bin it, don’t block it.” Additionally, we recommend that you check out the Costa Mesa Sanitary District’s website to learn more about your local residential FOG recycling program.

It’s also important for all homeowners to conduct regular sewer lateral inspections, regardless of whether or not you use wet wipes or dump cooking oil down the drain. In some cases, slight imperfections in the materials of your toilet paper can cause it to get caught in pipes and combine with other clogs already there. Without regular maintenance, sewer lines can become blocked and cause raw waste material to back up inside your pipes and potentially cause damage to your home or property.

Parzival Plumbing is always available to conduct comprehensive sewer lateral inspections in Costa Mesa and throughout the entire Orange County area. If you are concerned about the health and safety of your sewer system, please contact us today and ask about receiving a free estimate.

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