Crews in London are waging a “three-week sewer war” against an enormous “fatberg” — a solid mass of congealed oil, diapers, hand wipes and other unsavory items — that is clogging a Victorian-era sewer in Whitechapel, London, according to a news release from British utilities company Thames Water.
It’s more than 250 yards long — longer than two football fields. And it weighs 130 tons, more than 10 average buses.
And it’s solid as a rock.
A crew of eight people is attempting to break the mass up using high-powered jet hoses. After it’s in pieces, they’ll suction it into tankers and bring it to a nearby recycling plant for disposal.
The process is expected to take three weeks.
“It’s basically like trying to break up concrete,” Thames Water’s head of waste networks, Matt Rimmer, said in a news release.
The fatbergs form when people dispose of cooking oil and other fats through their sinks and toilets. When the oil gets into the sewer, it often congeals with other waste that isn’t meant to be flushed, such as diapers or wet wipes.
“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,” Rimmer added.
While not uncommon, the size of this particular fatberg is stunning, perhaps even record-breaking.
“This fatberg is up there with the biggest we’ve ever seen,” Rimmer said in a news release. “It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard.”
Theses masses form in most major cities — in New York, for example, clearing out such blockages cost an estimated $4.65 million in 2013 — but they seem to be particularly problematic in London.
In 2015, for example, a 10-ton fatberg broke a section of the London sewer, requiring Thames Water to replace nearly 100 feet of piping, The Washington Post reported.
At the time, Thames Water repair and maintenance supervisor Stephen Hunt told the Guardian, “We see blockages all the time on household sewer pipes, which are about big enough for a cricket ball to pass through, but to have this much damage on a sewer almost a meter in diameter is mind-boggling.”
If only he had known what the city was in for a few years later.
The problem is so insidious in London, in fact, Thames Water “even formed a ‘fatberg hit squad’ to tackle the problem,” as Kaplan wrote.
Of course, given that they would rather not deploy this special team, Rimmer urged everyone to be cautious when it comes to flushing.