The British sewage system is at threat. This threat doesn’t however come from the aging nature of the sewers that run under our towns and cities though, but from the ever increasing risk of ‘fatbergs’; huge build ups of fat, wet wipes, nappies and other waste that block the system and create a significant problem for local authorities.

Just last month a huge ‘fatberg’ the same size as a Boeing 747 was discovered in an area of the sewage system under London, taking a mammoth effort from Thames Water and their team of workers to remove it before the 80m stretch of Shepherd’s Bush Road was turned into a cesspit.

This is not the first and certainly won’t be the last ‘fatberg’ to be discovered, as just last year the largest ever, a 15 tonne beast, was discovered and removed from the sewers of Kingston upon Thames. They are a problem that we can avoid though if people were less adverse to pouring food fat down their kitchen sinks and flushing wet wipes down the toilet as Dave Dennis, the sewer operations manager for Thames Water explained;

“Fat goes down the drain easily enough, but when it hits the cold sewers, it hardens into disgusting fatbergs that block pipes. Wet wipes cling to the fat. Fat clings to the wipes. And pretty soon your fatberg is out of control and sewage is backing up into roads, gardens and in the worst cases flooding up through toilets and into homes.”

It was only thanks to the efforts of sewage experts working on the latest ‘fatberg’ to hit London’s sewers that the consequences weren’t considerably worse. It took four days of work with specialists using highly powered jets of water to break down the congealed mass of fat and flush it down the sewer.

This fast action avoided the sewer flooding into nearby homes, shops and businesses, which could have been disastrous in one of West London’s busiest areas.

Following the successful removal of the latest in a long line of blockages, Thames Water announced that £12m a year is spent on this particular type of drainage problem. When you consider that this figure is just from one water board in one area of Britain, if you were to multiply this out across the rest of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the figure would undoubtedly be quite astounding.

In London alone, Harrow tops the list for blockages with a massive 13,417 reported over the last five years, so it is clear that a considerable effort is needed to lower this figure dramatically.

As mentioned, it’s not just London that is affected as an effort needs to be made nationwide to reduce this problem. There are already many companies, such as Mechanical Movements, out there utilising the latest techniques such as CCTV surveying to get detailed assessments of drains and sewer systems however it needs to come from home and business owners first and foremost.

With increased responsibility taken over waste disposal, the ‘fatberg’ epidemic could be reduced and our sewage systems clear and fully functional once more.