17-Ton "Fatberg" Found in British Sewer

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 6 2013 2:33 PM

A Nearly 17-Ton Blob of Fat Was Found in a British Sewer

I'm a little late to this story (and, unfortunately, only spotted it after my lunch break), but what I lack in timeliness I'll make up for in pure disgustingness with the help of a little video—and a bus-sized blob of fat.

The so-called "fatberg" that you see at the end (a term actually being used by the Thames Water utility company) weighs in at an estimated 15 tonnes, or slightly more than 16.5 American tons, and was found late last month by utility workers in the sewers of the London suburb of Kingston after residents reported no longer being able to flush their toilets. "Given we've got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we've encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history," said Gordon Hailwood, waste contracts supervisor for Thames Water, in what is by far my favorite statement I can ever remember discovering on the website of a water utility.

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Apparently, and I'm willing to take the fatberg experts on their word on this, lumps of festering food fat mixed with wet wipes are a serious problem in London city sewers, although they normally don't get this big.

CBS News reports that an unlucky team of staff had to use high-powered water jets to clear the pipe last week, and it's expected to take up to six weeks for workers to repair the sewer in the wake of the let's-really-hope-it's-a-record fatberg. If all that's not enough to scare Londoners and the rest of us to dispose of fat properly (as in, not down the sink) Hailwood has a nightmarish hypothetical for us: "If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston."

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.