19-Ton, 100-Foot-Long ‘Fatberg’ Clogs Michigan Sewer

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
September 14, 2018US News

A gigantic mass dubbed a “fatberg” was discovered in a sewer pipe serving Macomb County, Michigan.

The mass of grease, fat, non-decaying cloth wipes, and other waste filled most of an 11-foot diameter pipe called the “Lakeshore Interceptor,” the Detroit News reported.

The pipe collects waste from Clinton, Harrison, Chesterfield and Lenox townships along with the village of New Haven.

Apparently residents in those counties dumped enough non-biodegradable material down their drains that it served to bind together fat and grease, which congealed into a solid, malodorous mass.

The fatberg under Macomb County stretched 100 feet long
The fatberg under Macomb County stretched 100 feet long and six feet tall, and weighed about 19 tons. (Macomb County Office of Public Works via Storyful screenshot))

“It’s comprised of what people inadvertently, or negligently, are putting down their sewers. That is greases, oils, all kinds of various things,” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller told Macomb Daily.

“You’ll find this in a restaurant situation when they’re not inspecting and cleaning out their grease traps on a regular basis. In residential situations, you’re making some hamburgers or whatever and you just pour the grease down the sewer. It shouldn’t go down the sewer.”

Food waste is a main ingredient of the “fatberg,” but not the cause of the gelatinous blockage.

“The biggest problem is the baby wipes,” Miller said. “Even though the package says they’re flushable, they’re not biodegradable. Go ahead and use them, just don’t flush them down the toilet.”

The fatberg had to be hacked to pieces by hand
The fatberg had to be hacked to pieces by hand and brought up in buckets. (Macomb County Office of Public Works via Storyful screenshot)

19 Stubborn Tons of Stinking Waste

The blockage built up at the Clintondale Pump Station in Clinton Township, about 15 miles northeast of Detroit, where the Lakeshore Interceptor ends and waste is pumped upwards from the 55-foot-deep Interceptor to the next pipe in the network, the 15 Mile Interceptor, which is about 20 feet higher. From there the waste is supposed to go to a processing plant in Detroit.

The blob was about 100 feet long, six feet tall, and weighed about 19 tons when county officials decided it was time to remove it. If they had let it grow, the “fatberg” would have blocked the entire pipe and spewed sewage out into the environment.

The county called Doetsch Environmental Services to remove the gooey mass. At first the company tried suction, but the fatberg was too dense. Next, the removal crew tired to cut up the fatberg with high-pressure water—but it was too tough.

Sewer workers shovel up a fatberg under London
Sewer technician Tim Henderson (L),and sewer supervisor Vince Minney (R) shovel up chunks of fatberg at the intersection of the Regent Street and Victoria sewer in London on Dec. 11, 2014. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Ultimately, Doetsch workers had to crawl into the pipe with handsaws and hack the stinking mass into portable pieces, some of which were sucked out, and some of which had to be carried out.

Joe Schotthoefer of Doetsch Environmental said he had never seen a clog so large.

“There was so much sanitary trash intermingled with the grease that our normal methods were largely ineffective,” he told the Macomb Daily. “Everyone needs to be environmental stewards. This is all solid waste that should be on the curb, not down your drain.”

Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller wanted to make sure county residents knew that there was a cost to dumping the wrong stuff down the sink and toilet—in this case, $100,000.

“We want to use this as a teachable moment if we can to get folks to change their behavior towards what they’re putting down in the sewer,” Miller told a news conference on Sept. 13.

“There’s an enormous cost (to removing fatbergs) and we’re all paying for it. We don’t want to continue to do it.”

Far From the Worst Fatberg

While the Michigan fatberg was certainly as large and as foul as anyone would ever want, it is not as bad as fatbergs can get.

Baltimore, Maryland residents found that out in 2017, when a giant fatberg completely blocked a pipe, forcing more than a million gallons of raw sewage to spill into a river, the Detroit Free Press reported.

It gets worse than that, though.

A 140-ton fatberg was discovered in the London, England sewer system in September 2017, according to the Baltimore Sun. That one was 820 feet long, Storyful reported, and took about three weeks to remove.

Matt Rimmer, Director of Thames Water’s waste networks division, said: “This fatberg is up there with the biggest we’ve ever seen. It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard,” on the utility’s website.

“It’s basically like trying to break up concrete. 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.”

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