Congestion backs up London Tube for a quarter of a kilometer
September 13, 2017 5:35 PM   Subscribe

"The solid mass of congealed fat, wet wipes, nappies, oil and condoms formed in the Victorian-era tunnel in Whitechapel, London." The 'fatberg' is 250 meters long and estimated to weigh over 130 metric tons. An eight-member team will break up the fatberg with high-pressure hoses.
posted by needled (73 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wait until they check under the White House.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 5:36 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Still not the grossest thing to happen in Whitechapel.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 5:37 PM on September 13 [17 favorites]


i am the first to admit that my millennium bender got out of hand but fat shaming like this does nobody any good
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:39 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


I'll take Jobs I'd Never Do for six hundred, Alex.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:45 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I love the old '70s Doctor Who episodes.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:49 PM on September 13 [41 favorites]


Those chips you're all eating have consequences people!
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:52 PM on September 13


The last time we had a story like this, I asked an elder coworker "have you heard about the fatberg?" She asked in turn "is that the new Hardee's sandwich?"

I miss her.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:54 PM on September 13 [31 favorites]


The company's head of waste networks Matt Rimmer

OH COME ON PEOPLE
posted by Shepherd at 5:55 PM on September 13 [60 favorites]


Its not just a problem with fat. The presence of condoms in enough of a quantity that they call them out by name indicates that there may be some protein left in there too.

Hmm, I'm totally seeing a revamp of like... The Thing meets CHUD based on these fatbergs...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:56 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Eight workers will break up the mass with high-pressure hoses, suck up the pieces into tankers and take it to a recycling site in Stratford.

Oh my god, that's gonna smell amazing.
posted by drinkyclown at 6:06 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


I'm just impressed that they found a way to weigh it.
posted by 4ster at 6:13 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Those chips you're all eating have consequences people!

I'm pretty sure the chips I eat enter the sewer system in a form it's designed to handle.
posted by traveler_ at 6:13 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


This is the stuff that goes in puddings, right?
posted by acidic at 6:14 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I just love that they included a picture graph to give a sense of scale.
posted by polymodus at 6:23 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Well, that's going to be a hell of a metaphor for something, but I'm not touching that one with a bargepole. Someone else can have this one.
posted by Naberius at 6:31 PM on September 13




I just love that they included a picture graph to give a sense of scale.

And that the weight is comparable to that of a blue whale. Someday on QI, Alan Davies will be delighted.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:53 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


And in some places, people will harvest fatbergs, filter (badly) the chunks out of 'em, and sell the resulting substance to street vendors as "gutter oil."

Enjoy your Pad Thai!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:05 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


TIME TRAVELING FATBERG WAS JACK THE RIPPER
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:08 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Villain in the next Rivers of London book?
posted by betweenthebars at 7:11 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


MeFi's Own cstross has to work this into a Laundry book somehow.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


The good thing about a fatberg is that if you plow into it with your ship, it just makes an unspeakable squishy noise and kind of smears everywhere.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:23 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I'm very glad I just had my septic tank emptied and no problems were reported
posted by TedW at 7:37 PM on September 13


Oh my goodness. You were serious about gutter oil. I. I have no words.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:43 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


I normally don't comment without rtfs... but you know I really don't need to see pictures of that.
posted by cirhosis at 7:44 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


MeFi's Own cstross has to work this into a Laundry book somehow

The Fatberg Atrocity
The Fatberg Archives

Or, really: The Chippy Conclusion.

Eight workers will break up the mass with high-pressure hoses, suck up the pieces into tankers and take it to a recycling site in Stratford.

Recycled into what, precisely? A fatberg golem?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:44 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Or: The Chippy Occlusion.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:47 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


No tampons? Earlier this year, I had wastewater backing up into my bathroom (I was on the first floor). When the landlord finally found a sewerage company to take care of the situation, they pulled FOUR tampons out of the stack. Yet, my bathtub still wouldn't drain. They had to cable my tub trap and pulled out ANOTHER tampon that had backed up into that trap. I was both astounded and unsurprised, since I've had to maintain public toilets.

This is also the place where, despite said public toilet maintenance experience, I admit that I do have to occasionally flush "wet wipes". I blame that on the fact that I don't live in Italy (a civilized place where bidets are a required fixture), or some other places in Europe (where at least a spray handle was available next to the toilet), where you can properly, hygienically, and civilized-ly clean yourself after defecating.

Were I in charge, I would mandate that toilet paper could only be sold in small packs by the sheet and any rolls must only be 150 grit sandpaper. But, knowing Americans, they would happily scrub with the sandpaper while shouting "freedom!"
posted by bonje at 7:48 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


The Greases Chart.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:49 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Recycled into what, precisely?

One way is to break it down under pressure and elevated temperature in a hydrogen-rich reducing atmosphere via thermal depolymerization into oil. Which is typically then used as fuel in a heating plant somewhere. TD costs more energy than it nets typically, so it's not exactly energy efficient, but it's really good at removing organic toxins and sterilizing all sorts of pathogens.

I'd trust it more than simple low-temperature incineration, for example. Aside from the incomplete combustion byproducts of typical incinerators (some of them very likely chlorinated, so hello PCDD/Fs), it also allows for extraction of metal wastes for one, rather than having to scavenge many from flue gasses and ash.
posted by bonehead at 7:54 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


A hundred years of accumulated fat blocking ancient sewers might be more of a China Mieville thing?
posted by tobascodagama at 7:57 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


Some of it might end up elsewhere: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/sep/13/fatberg-blocking-london-sewer-could-become-museum-exhibit (sorry I couldn't get the link to display properly)
posted by mollymillions at 8:07 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Gutter oil is new to me (though sadly I've probably eaten my fair share), but surely something like this could be converted into something at least pseudo-ecological sounding, like biodiesel, just for the marketing value.

The presence of condoms in enough of a quantity that they call them out by name indicates that there may be some protein left in there too.

I've been in a number of sewage facilities, and dealing with condoms is a major issue, just from the vast quantity that come floating down. Literally truckloads of them are collected at the filters.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:51 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I don't need a second sockpuppet account, but if I did, Fatberg Golem would be it.

Also, Fatberg Golem* sounds like the guy in Meyer Lansky's mob who was responsible for beating the living crap out of you, viz., "Fine, don't talk, but you'll be singing like a cantor once Lansky's wolves turn you over to Fatberg Golem, you unlucky fuck."

*I'd favorite this twice if I could, MC.
posted by mosk at 8:56 PM on September 13 [12 favorites]


surely something like this could be converted into something at least pseudo-ecological sounding, like biodiesel,

Absolutely possible via thermal depolymerization then esterification. I've done some quality and tox testing on biodiesel so produced from the waste stream of fish plants.
posted by bonehead at 9:04 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


There has got to be a way to get a fatberg golem into Pathfinder. Impossible to grapple, casts grease in a 20-foot radius around it constantly.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:04 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


guys it's hard enough to get wifi down here, sucks when i finally get online and just want to catch up on the latest election longboat and y'all are all being giggly and not exactly polite over here

also jfc there aren't THAT many condoms, sheesh. please get your head out of my attic.
posted by fatberg golem at 9:18 PM on September 13 [28 favorites]


CALL LOG: WHITECHAPEL DRAIN SERVICE

[Missed] T.C.VIGO...
[Missed] T.C.VIGO...
[Missed] POJAJANOS...
[Missed] SPENGLERE...
[Missed] VENKMANPE...

posted by snuffleupagus at 9:45 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Please don't give Piers Morgan any more insulting nicknames than he already has.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:53 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I believe sonascope might have some insight to this, if I remember I my past threads correctly?
posted by mollweide at 9:54 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I think we should keep one of these around to wheel out, when the alien overlords show up. We get robots to wheel it out, and just let it sit near the arrival. See what they do. It can be our sacrificial offaling.
posted by Oyéah at 10:10 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


The solid mass of congealed fat, wet wipes, nappies, oil and condoms formed in the Victorian-era tunnel in Whitechapel, London.

I'm imagining it with Piers Morgan's face.
posted by w0mbat at 10:54 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Tampons and wet wipes are the bane of sensible sewers. I spend like 30% of my maintenance time on my company's plant dealing with the and other things flushed that shouldn't be (tampon applicators, condoms and their wrappers, cigarette butts, hair) . But mostly wet wipes and tampons.

4ster: "I'm just impressed that they found a way to weigh it."

There is probably a rule of thumb for mass of blockages (the only thing unusual about this one is it's large size). Then simple application of the volume of the cylinder of the sewer gives a fair approximate mass.
posted by Mitheral at 10:57 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


The worst part about cutting apart a mass of oil, dung, and semen is the little screams of the homunculi.
posted by benzenedream at 11:02 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


They didn't mention poop. I am betting there is some poop in there too.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:45 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I don't want my boat back.
posted by adept256 at 12:12 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Fatberg blocking London sewer could become museum exhibit

"Our challenge is to think of a way to make it presentable to the public..."
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:47 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Going back to the congealed fat issue - I've been thinking of trying out those Japanese cooking oil solidifiers which seem to be available at the local Daiso. Though I have no idea whether these are worth it for pan frying or if they cause unknown ecological damage.
posted by tavegyl at 12:51 AM on September 14


So I've been using these Andrex 'flushable' toilet wipes. From a cleanliness point of view, the difference is night and day. They have a whole statement on their website about flushability. Has my entire life been founded on a tissue (ha) of lies??
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:58 AM on September 14


Tampons and wet wipes are the bane of sensible sewers

At our previous house a few years ago, our toilet started draining really, really slowly, to the point where we were afraid of an overflow situation. It's a long and disgusting saga involving two separate plumbers, the local council, Thames Water, a sewer line that ran underneath an elementary school next door, and a three-man crew wielding a spectacularly powerful pressure washer that Mrs. Example and I came to call the PoopJet™ 9000, and I won't bore you with all the details.

The upshot, though, and the relevant bit here, is that the entire situation came about because our godawful upstairs neighbor had been flushing wet wipes for weeks, if not months, and they had finally overwhelmed the system. She was already pretty much a garbage person, not least because of her terrible music played at wall-shaking volumes and her constant screaming at her child, but this really solidified things. Like the fatberg ayyyyy LMAO
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:38 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter: cutting apart a mass of oil, dung, and semen.
posted by Wordshore at 4:49 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


What did we learn today?

We learned that my stomach is too weak to read a thread about a fatberg and added gutter oil. At least within the first hour of waking. I'd probably do better later in the day.

Also. Fatberg! It'd be hilarious if it wasn't so gross.
posted by Fezboy! at 5:19 AM on September 14


This issue happens so often in London that it's got a name ("fatberg") and has been making international news on a regular basis for years, yet no sort of inspection caught this 100 tons ago?

It's amazing that this ancient system absorbed so much abuse before it became an issue. It's amazing that our monkey brains somehow give us individual permission to mess up the commons over and over again, yet somehow civil society works more often than it does not.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:34 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Wasn't this the Harlan Ellison story that ends with the line "They call me father"?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:13 AM on September 14


Has my entire life been founded on a tissue (ha) of lies??

Yeah, probably. "Flushable" wipes aren't, so they should be binned rather than flushed.

You can test the manufacturer's claims yourself: put a clean wad of toilet paper in a bottle of water. Shake it! It should disintegrate without much effort. Try the same with a clean wet wipe. If it behaves the same way as the toilet paper did, you're OK to flush it, but it almost certainly won't.

Same test applies to anything else people might consider flushing. No, condoms don't break down quickly with moisture and friction. If they did, they wouldn't be much good as condoms.
posted by asperity at 6:49 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Meatbomb: "They didn't mention poop. I am betting there is some poop in there too."

There isn't much solid fecal matter in sewage; it disassociates into the liquid in short order in most cases. As opposed to fat which not stays solid but sticks together when it finds other fat. While there would undoubtedly be trace amounts in the berg it would mostly be tiny particals rather than discreet chunks you could point to.

Ziggy500: "They have a whole statement on their website about flushability. Has my entire life been founded on a tissue (ha) of lies??"

Well the thing is if their product is really sewer safe it won't be recognizable as a wet wipe to maintenance workers. Note that the people doing the flushable certification are makers of wet wipes and not say municipal sewage engineers.

It's pretty easy to test these yourself. Get three glasses of cold water. In one drop a few sheets of toilet paper. In the second a "flushable" wipe and in the third a standard baby wipe. Observe that the toilet paper disassociates pretty much immediately. A standard baby wipe maintains it's integrity. Those set your scale. See where the flushable wipe lays on the scale. If it isn't essentially at the toilet paper end it could cause problems. Contemplate whether the remains of the flushable wipe will be able to flow through a 1/4" screen.
posted by Mitheral at 6:52 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Also if it isn't obvious: one shouldn't pour even liquid fats like cooking oil down the drain. An organic oil will hydrolise and form a solid mass in much the same way as traditional soup is made.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


From the end of the article:

"What else would you like to know about fatbergs? Ask us your questions using the form below and we could be in touch."

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

In fact, if you could do the reverse, and remove what you've already told me from my brain, I'd be much obliged.
posted by penguin pie at 7:39 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Villain in the next Rivers of London book?

One appears in the Matthew Swift books by Kate Griffin, who does a pretty grimy version of the London urban fantasy. Well worth a read.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:41 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


There isn't much solid fecal matter in sewage; it disassociates into the liquid in short order in most cases.

My semi-frequent plunger usage may be indicative of a non 'most case'
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:43 AM on September 14


Also, has no one watched the video and said 'Ratberg on Fatberg!'
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:59 AM on September 14


"Fine, don't talk, but you'll be singing like a cantor once Lansky's wolves turn you over to Fatberg Golem, you unlucky fuck."


I also really don't want to know anything more about fatbergs, but now I do really want to read a series of Jewish 1940s hard-boiled crime novels.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:23 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


So, they finally found the mother of the "little" one from 2013.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:26 AM on September 14


Landfill it? Put it in a museum? Cook with it again so that it calves another fatberg? OR! We could turn it into biodiesel and use it to fuel the war effort!
posted by Don Pepino at 8:31 AM on September 14


We have always been at war with Fatberg.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:37 AM on September 14


I have no idea if ... [solidifiers] cause unknown ecological damage.

Not really no. Our data on this isn't published (yet---I keep pushing my colleague to do so), but that stuff is pretty innocuous. It might cause physical fouling, but it's not a particular biological or chemical risk. In large amounts it might cause oxygen depletion, but the biological oxygen demand (in water) for cooking oils isn't that huge to start with, and this would be less available.
posted by bonehead at 9:54 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I don't get why they call it "fatberg," when none of the graphics compare it to an iceberg.

Why not a "fatbridge" or a "condombluewhale" or a "sanitary-towels-80-120,000-packs-of-lard?"
posted by univac at 10:33 AM on September 14


I assume the name comes from that the Fleet Street rags (warning:daily mail) have given to the palm oil lumps that keep washing up on the south west coasts of the UK. I've seen pictures of "fatburgs" as big as small cars.
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on September 14




What did we learn today?

*puts down fork*

To stop reading Metafilter on my lunch hour.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:53 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I spend a lot of time on the Thames. This does not surprise me, it is gross down there. For the love of god: Don't flush!

Also stop using plastic strawers and cottonbuds, but I digress.

This is a bit of a stupid question, and. I feel like I might be failing at adulting a bit here, how you dispose of liquid cooking oil if you don't put it down the sink? If I can I put it in a container of some sort that's going in the general waste bin anyway. But I recycle most of my containers, so I don't often have a suitable one.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:03 PM on September 14


Next time you open a can of mushy peas or Heinz beans, save the can. Put used oil in there, freeze it until trash day or whatever they call it over there.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:04 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


But I recycle most of my containers

I have a non-compostable wet trash setup in my kitchen; a cut off plastic bleach jug that clear plastic bags (like, for produce from the grocery store/supermarket) fit into perfectly. Blow up bag, twist close, gently compress to make sure it's airtight/no-holes, insert into container while still partially inflated, roll edge over the rim. Other plastic bags work fine, too; just make sure they're airtight.

Once the oil has cooled, it goes into the wet trash container (scrape from pan with a spatula, or pour and wipe pan with a roll of toilet paper I keep next to the stove).

I like fluttering hellfire's idea, too. I keep bacon grease in a small bowl with a cover at room temperature (in non-summer months) for cooking, so that doesn't directly enter the waste stream anyway. Rendered duck fat lasts for a couple/three rounds of confit, but after that, I strain and save it for cooking - but that I freeze in a plastic container with a lid and chip bits off (easily done) when I want to cook with it.
posted by porpoise at 6:43 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


« Older 35 Reasons to Love "Survivor"   |   Sitting On The Pier Of The Bay Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.