As with any prevalent issue against mankind, the epidemic of fatbergs must be explored and investigated. Unfortunately, there are a team of scientist out there dedicated to deconstructing a fatberg. Finding out what makes them tick and what they’re made of can tell us a lot about how to beat them. Despite the importance of such research, I’d maybe avert your gaze now if you’re looking for something to read as you eat our breakfast.
As mentioned in a previous blog a fatberg recently made its way from a sewer in Michigan to a local museum. Due to the transportation of the fatberg, it seemed the perfect specimen to dissect. The fatberg measured in around 6 feet wide, 8ft tall and an astounding 100ft long. That’s longer than 2 school buses. Not much more than a drip of water could pass by the enormous mass, putting extreme strain on the sewers with water, all kinds of waste and a back up of potentially deadly gas.
FAT, OILS, GREASE:
On a basic level, we already know what makes up the fundamental parts of the icky sticky fatbergs. Fats, Oils and Grease known commonly by their acronym FOG are the main ingredient in these environmental catastrophes.
FOG is often made up of improperly disposed cooking oil and other household and commercial fats and grease. These then combine in the sewers with a whole range of items that have been improperly flushed into our sewers. This can include everything from wet wipes to nappies to chocolate wrappers. The list goes on, and on, and on. The result is a big congealed blob that clogs our sewers, backs up into our seas and drains. Removal is extremely expensive and dangerous work and wreaks havoc on the often-ancient sewers systems around the world.
Despite what we already know, this didn’t put our strong-stomached team of researchers off their notion. In order to understand what causes fatbergs and what they’re really made up from, one must be explored.
A team of dedicated environmental engineers set sail for the sewers below with a plan to take two 10-pound samples from the 100ft monster. This is a relatively new kind of expedition and there wasn’t a lot of previous examples to draw from. From equipment needed to methods of extraction, leading toxicologist Tracy Baker summarized; “We weren’t exactly sure what was going to work”.
Baker, rather revoltingly, described the fatberg as having a “thick, stew-like consistency”. Upon inspection, the fatberg revealed a treasure trove of improperly disposed of contents. Just within the two small samples, scientists found everything from coffee stirrers to KitKat wrappers to mustard packets. Baker also commented on the high number of wet wipes, since they are misleadingly sold as being as flushable.
Who’s to Blame?
Baker and the team came to the conclusion we already knew. Oleic acid from cooking oil as well as a litany of household items have combined in causing this particularly fatberg. In simple terms, Baker’s colleague Carol Miller states “much of the problem associated with fatbergs is really human-created”. People are the problem.
By simple behavioural and installing the appropriate equipment, we can work together to obliterate the fatberg problem, reduce costs and save the planet. As team communications officer Dan Heaton says; “As interesting as fatbergs are, the goal is to never have another one”.
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