[Marxism] Sewer in London’s East End Menaced by Giant Fatberg

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 14 09:01:24 MDT 2017

NY Times, Sept. 14 2017
Sewer in London’s East End Menaced by Giant Fatberg

LONDON — There is a monster beneath the streets of London, menacing the 
East End underworld.

What has been named the Whitechapel fatberg is a rock-solid 
agglomeration of fat, disposable wipes, diapers, condoms and tampons. It 
was discovered to the east of the city’s financial district, occupying a 
sixth of a mile of sewer under Whitechapel Road, between one of London’s 
largest mosques and a pub called the Blind Beggar, where walking tours 
are taken to reminisce about a notorious gangland murder.

Thames Water, the capital’s utility, said the fatberg weighed as much as 
11 of the city’s double-decker buses: more than 140 tons. That is 10 
times the size of a similar mass that the company found beneath 
Kingston, in South London, in 2013, and declared the biggest example in 
British history.

To prevent the contents of the sewer from flooding streets and homes 
nearby, the utility is sending an eight-member team to break up the 
fatberg with high-powered jet hoses and hand tools. The task is expected 
to take them three weeks, working seven days a week.

“It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to 
remove,” said Thames Water’s head of waste networks, Matt Rimmer. “It’s 
basically like trying to break up concrete.”

Such blockages are not unique to London. New York City has spent 
millions of dollars on problems created by disposable wipes. Even the 
ones branded as flushable were combining with materials like congealed 
grease to upend plumbing. Hawaii, Alaska, Wisconsin and California have 
struggled with similar problems.

This city’s sewage system, however, presents special challenges. The 
backbone of the network was built in the 19th century, after a series of 
cholera outbreaks and the “Great Stink” of 1858, when lawmakers 
abandoned the Houses of Parliament because of the stench of raw sewage 
from the nearby River Thames.

That 1,100-mile system, originally designed to serve four million 
people, has been struggling to cope with the waste of about twice that 
number. Work is underway on a new super sewer.

Joseph Bazalgette, who designed the Victorian network, probably did not 
account for the disposable diapers and wipes that, in a matter of days, 
can mate with oil and grease to create fatbergs big enough to block 
tunnels that are six feet tall.

The sewer under Whitechapel Road is about four feet high and less than 
three feet wide, and Thames Water engineers found the fatberg there 
during a routine check. They regularly walk through the system to look 
for problems. Lee Irving, a spokesman for Thames Water, described the 
experience of encountering a fatberg as overwhelming, with a smell that 
mixes rotting meat and smelly toilet.

The utility is trying to prevent fatbergs with publicity campaigns 
urging residents to dispose of wipes and fat in the garbage can, rather 
than down the drain. It has said that it clears three blockages from 
fat, and four or more caused by items like wipes, every hour.

It has also targeted restaurants, encouraging them to use grease traps. 
“There’s a clear link between our fatberg hot spots and high 
concentrations of food outlets,” Steve Spencer, then the utility’s head 
of waste networks, said in February.

Thames Water has tried to put all that congealed fat to use. Some is 
converted into biodiesel for power generators.

The utility said it was also working with a renewables company, Argent 
Energy, on turning its waste fat into environmentally friendly fuel. 
(Maybe someday, fatbergs could power those double-decker buses.)

And there is a chance that a slice of the fatberg will be preserved for 
generations to come. The Museum of London said on Wednesday that it 
hoped to acquire a cross-section of the blob for its collection.

“It is important for the Museum of London to display genuine curiosities 
from past and present,” the director of the museum, Sharon Ament, said 
in a news release.

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