Fatbergs haunting the sewer network

Deep beneath our feet the sewer network is being haunted by a widespread substance, creating monstrous fatbergs.

Fatbergs are not natural, they form when fat, oil and grease (FOG), poured down drains, coagulates around unflushable items like wet wipes and nappies that have been flushed down the toilet, instead of being thrown in the bin.

The result, they combine and set like concrete and block the sewers completely, causing flooding.

Engineers from United Utilities do all they can to proactively battle the problem. It’s for this reason even after it has gone midnight on North John Street in Liverpool city centre which is now devoid of its usual hive of activity, a team from United Utilities is preparing to descend underground into a major sewer.

Stephen Owen network performance technician said: “North John Street is a major sewer in the city centre and one with a history of problems.  With many eating outlets lining the street it’s one we know has previously struggled to flow due to monstrous masses of fat.”

Each year United Utilities tackle on average 28,000 blockages on the sewers which serve the North West, costing around £10 million.

United Utilities is continually maintaining the sewer network, tackling known hot spots with a regular cleaning programme to ensure the network here in Liverpool keeps flowing.

“Our customers probably don’t realise this type of difficult and disgusting operation to clear sewers takes place to minimise the chance of flooding added Stephen.

The company also regularly visit restaurants to educate staff on how they can stop the flow of fat leaving their kitchens.

“We are exploring different options to see how we can change attitudes and work with food outlets to make their kitchen sewer friendly, for example by installing fat traps to stop FOG and leftover food from entering the public sewer” he said.

As much as we live in a ‘disposable age’, it’s vital that we all think before we flush and pour items away, as many items currently entering the sewer system don’t just disappear and dissolve.  All-to-often blocked sewers heap misery when homes and gardens flood. 

“We want to help people learn how they can keep their drains healthy, because it might not be our sewers that block, it could be theirs. And that could mean calling a plumber and a hefty bill,” he said. United Utilities advice is never put fat or oil down your kitchen sink. Wait until it cools and mop it up with a kitchen towel and put it in the bin. The same goes for wet wipes, sanitary towels, cotton buds and especially nappies. They don’t dissolve like ordinary toilet paper.

“The only thing that should go down the toilet is the three Ps – pee, poo and paper (toilet paper that is) – everything else needs to go in the bin,” said Steve