40-ton 'fatberg' the size of a double-decker bus removed from London sewers

LONDON -- A gigantic, sludgy mass the size of a double-decker bus has been removed -- by hand -- from the sewers of East London, ending a messy 3-week operation.

The mass, known as a fatberg, forms when fat, grease and oil is poured down sinks and combines with items that should not be flushed down the toilet, such as wet wipes, diapers and cotton swabs. The 40-ton fatberg, discovered earlier this year, was taking up 80% of the sewer's capacity and created a risk that sewage would begin backing up into people's homes and businesses, according to a statement by Thames Water.

The operation to remove the enormous clog in the borough of Greenwich, in east London, began three weeks ago with a crew of 8 people working 9 hours a day underground. The only way to remove the fatberg was, first, to loosen it up bit by bit by blasting it with high-powered water jets, then remove the debris by hand before sucking the substance out with tankers. The disentangled sludge was then disposed of at a recycling site near Stratford, close by London's Olympic Stadium that hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.

"This was a massive and disgusting blockage that took a great deal of effort and teamwork to clear and get the sewer working well again," said Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks. "I'm happy that our team was able to get down and work hard to quickly clear the fatberg before it could cause problems for our customers and the environment."

Thames Water said, in an effort to prevent another massive fatberg from forming, they have sent network-protection teams to visit restaurants and food establishments to make sure they are not pouring fatty fluids and grease down their sinks, and that fat traps installed on the premises are in proper working order. If businesses do not comply they can face prosecution, fines of up to hundreds of thousands of pounds and could be forced to close.

This is not the first time a fatberg has been discovered in London's sewer system. In fact, the one discovered in Greenwich isn't even the biggest.

According to Thames Water, engineers discovered a giant 250 meter (820 feet) fatberg in the Whitechapel area of London in 2017. That fatberg blocked a Victorian sewer more than twice the length of a football field and weighed an estimated 130 tons -- more than 3 times the size of the most recent one.

Speaking to the public, Rimmer said: "We'd urge everyone to help fight the fatberg by only flushing the 3Ps - pee, poo and paper - as well as disposing of fat and oils in the bin, not the sink."
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