Mary Beth Nevulis is the managing editor of Storm Water Solutions. Nevulis can be reached at [email protected]
Aug 06, 2013

A Titanic Problem

It’s not every day that news outlets all over the U.S. and Europe feature stories about the contents of sewers, but this week, an unsettling problem with a catchy name has been high in the headlines: “Fatberg,” a 15-ton lump of “food fat mixed with wet wipes,” had been clogging up the Thames Water sewer system in the U.K. and was finally eradicated when a three-week removal process came to an end.

Gordon Hailwood, waste contracts supervisor for Thames Water, told media that raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes if they had not discovered the bus-sized clog in time. “Fatberg” also damaged the sewers, and repairs will take up to six weeks.

Many media outlets have been treating this as somewhat of a joke, but it actually highlights some serious issues: that anything and everything that is flushed down a toilet ends up in our sewer systems, and that some flushed items or substances can harm already failing infrastructure or endangered water supplies, resulting in costly operations to make things right again. Educating the public on what can and cannot be flushed is essential to keeping our systems clean and functioning.