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Giant fat blobs, known as fatbergs, are the scourge of London's aging sewers

Monday, 4 December, 2023

London is waging an ongoing battle in its aging 19th-century sewers against the scourge of "fatbergs" — congealed masses of cooking oil, wipes, condoms, diapers and other gunk — that pollute and clog the underground system.

London sewer workers who coined the term for the stinking mass need to use shovels and high-pressure hoses to blast it apart.< /p>

The utility Thames Water announced Friday that it finally broke up a monster fatberg whose existence was made public in September. The 800-foot- long, 130-ton blob the size of 11 double-decker buses was blocking a 270-yard stretch of sewer under Whitechapel Road in London’s East End.

The mass, which took nine weeks to destroy, was the largest ever seen in this capital city. The biohazardous, pollution risk was being converted into more than 2,600 gallons of biodiesel.

Dr Tom Curran from the UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering was recently interviewed by USA Today about his research into these “fatbergs”. Curran also recently won a Fulbright scholarship to work with fatberg expert Joel Ducoste at North Carolina State University next year.

He states that a project is underway to figure out where sewer systems could get blocked and to install sensors where the risk is greatest. “It seems to be a perfect storm because we have increased urbanization," Curran said. "With old pipework like brickwork and concrete, calcium leaches and makes the fatberg harder."

Curran said water utilities in the United Kingdom are privately owned, making it difficult to implement inspection programs like those used in such cities as New York, Dublin and Stockholm.

In Dublin, before inspections began in 2008, there were about 1,000 blockages in sewers every year. After the program, there are about 50. “While restaurants may be seen as the main culprits, every citizen has a responsibility in their own kitchen to make sure their food doesn’t go down the sink,” Curran said.

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