The British town of Sidmouth recently discovered an unwelcome visitor in its sewer system: a giant “fatberg” the size of six double-decker buses.
The UK is no stranger to fatbergs - congealed masses of fat and waste that accumulate when people dispose of cooking oils, diapers, and wet wipes down the drains instead of in the correct garbage systems. This particular blockage, while not the largest to be found in the country, is the biggest fatberg ever found in the southwest, according to officials.
The mass is 64-meters long and, according to Andrew Roantree of South West Water, it will take several weeks and lots of hard work for crews to remove it. The estimated cost behind the operation is £130,000 ($167,075).
It was initially found by Charlie Ewart, a 51-year-old father of two from Plymouth who has 15 years of experience working with sewer blockages. Even for him, this fatberg was a sight to behold. Speaking to The Guardian, Ewart described the mass as “something out of a horror scene, all congealed and glossy and matted together with all kinds of things.”
Unpleasant and eerie as it may be, visitors who heard about the fatberg on the news have been arriving in Sidmouth to examine the area and try to catch a whiff of the congealed blob. South West Water has even opened an informative pop-up shop to educate the public on the unusual tourist attraction and the impact of flushing things they shouldn't down the toilet.
The team will use small shovels and a tool similar to a pickaxe to try and dismantle the fatberg. They will also have to wear breathing apparatus underground and fight off the pungent smell as they work. While this may sound like the job from hell for most people, Ewart is (figuratively) rolling up his sleeves and tackling the challenge head-on.
He told reporters, “I take a huge amount of pride in what I do. People don’t think about it when they put things down the loo or sink, but someone has to deal with the consequences.”
Despite Sidmouth’s impressive finding, the record for the UK’s largest fatberg is still held by the 250-meter-long “monster” found in the sewers beneath Whitechapel in east London. It weighed 130 tonnes – the same as 11 double-decker buses – and a slice of the infamous mass is now on display at the Museum of London.
Many of the UK’s sewer systems, including those in Sidmouth and London, date back to the Victorian era when the population was much smaller and the complications of flushing sewer-clogging materials were minimal. However, the aging systems are not the only culprit in the recent rise of fatbergs. Wet wipes play a large role in creating these solidified blockages.
“The proliferation of wet wipe-type products has started to generate a real problem,” said Roantree. “The wet wipes tend to create a matrix that all these other things get caught up in.”
Roantree is hoping that this latest discovery will teach people a lesson and encourage homeowners to put their pipes “on a diet.”