The Sidmouth Horror
January 8, 2019 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Sidmouth has a fatberg; but what is it?: Sidmouth, Devon is home to a recently-discovered fatberg that is 64 metres long. Fatbergs previously: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

South West Water's Sidmouth Fatberg page:

Alongside high-pressure jets and specialist equipment, our sewer workers will endure weeks of manual labour, attacking the fatberg bit by bit with shovels and pickaxes.
posted by mandolin conspiracy (60 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh crap. Or, Holy shit.
posted by AugustWest at 8:46 PM on January 8


attacking the fatberg bit by bit with shovels and pickaxes.

In the dystopian future, only the fortunate few will have the opportunity to work in the fatberg mines.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:57 PM on January 8 [17 favorites]


2/3 of a football field of fatberg.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


I think I'm OK with automating fatberg removal ASAP
posted by Tha Contender at 9:05 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


General Dynamics will get on it right away, as long as it also has military uses.
posted by hippybear at 9:19 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]


The Shoggoths eventually revolted and destroyed their masters.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:50 PM on January 8 [6 favorites]


Is Shoggoth what people from Sidmouth are called? Like how Newcastle natives are called Geordies?
posted by hippybear at 9:53 PM on January 8 [6 favorites]


Are double-decker busses a customary unit of length in the UK? People just can't think in terms of single-deckers if they didn't grow up using them or what?
posted by scope the lobe at 10:32 PM on January 8 [13 favorites]


I took a tour of the Paris sewers (yes, there are such tours!) and apparently they send specially-designed balls down the lines that scrub the accumulations out and keep things working. If you have been in Paris and noticed hydrants running into the streets for no apparent reason, this is what that is about: the water pushes the scrubbing balls along.

Paris, like my own city SF, has a single sewer system that does not separate sanitary sewers (term of art) from storm sewers. In general this is a good thing since all wastewater is treated before being released into the ocean or bay. In overflow situations, well, not as good. But perhaps on the balance good since water from the streets is pretty terrible. (Anticipating responses, yes, esp. in SF.)
posted by sjswitzer at 10:51 PM on January 8 [10 favorites]


Single-decker buses, such as the notorious bendy bus, come in several different lengths. Double deckers are more uniform.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:38 PM on January 8 [6 favorites]


Are double-decker busses a customary unit of length in the UK?
They are the colloquial Standard Object and can be used as a reference for mass, length, or volume. When you’re a kid you learn about how big dinosaurs are with respect to double deckers.
posted by doop at 12:18 AM on January 9 [14 favorites]


@scope the lobe

UK units of measure for volume differ depending on the general scale involved.

Roughly speaking they are:

The matchbox.
The cigarette packet.
The pint glass.
The semi-detached house.
The double-decker bus.
The Jumbo jet.
The football pitch.
The Wembley Stadium.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:30 AM on January 9 [49 favorites]


> UK units of measure for volume differ depending on the general scale involved.
[]
> posted by GallonOfAlan
Hmm...
posted by merlynkline at 12:41 AM on January 9 [7 favorites]


Is this a UK-specific thing? I thought it was pretty wide knowledge that you shouldn't dump animal fats down the drain.
posted by scose at 12:44 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


A block of hardened fat, oil and wet-wipes

Poopier-mâché
posted by pracowity at 12:45 AM on January 9 [29 favorites]


> Is this a UK-specific thing? I thought it was pretty wide knowledge that you shouldn't dump animal fats down the drain.

I'm in the UK and I feel like it's well known that you shouldn't dump *any* fats down the drain; this isn't limited to animal fats. However that knowledge doesn't always translate to action when people are confronted with a pan full of whatever they just fried their chips in. Even if it does, the small quantities of fat that inevitably get into the system from just washing the dishes etc will eventually accumulate.

I live in a house with a private sewage system connected to a private septic tank so I have been unfortunately close to this issue fairly recently (though not on this scale!). We are very careful to limit fat going down the drain, e.g. we always wipe down dishes and pans with kitchen paper before putting them in the dishwasher so most of the fat (etc) on them ends up in landfill instead of in the sewer. Nonetheless when I look under the inspection cover there is always a slick of accumulating fat where the kitchen drain joins the sewer. I can easily imagine how multiplying that by the population of a town or city, over decades, leads to something like this no matter how careful people are.
posted by merlynkline at 1:00 AM on January 9 [9 favorites]


.. and after The Wembley Stadium comes "An Area the Size of Wales".
posted by Paul Slade at 1:03 AM on January 9 [34 favorites]


I heard the fatberg has been awarded a contract for a No-deal Brexit ferry service.

Is this a UK-specific thing? I thought it was pretty wide knowledge that you shouldn't dump animal fats down the drain.

It's reasonably well-known as far as I can tell, but it's one of those "a little bit won't hurt" things combined with "I personally never have to deal with the consequences".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:39 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


Are double-decker busses a customary unit of length in the UK? People just can't think in terms of single-deckers if they didn't grow up using them or what?

A "single-decker bus" can vary massively in length.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:41 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


The question is, which Fatberg Slim track should be the theme song? Give The Po' Man A Break? Build It Up Tear It Down?
posted by Devonian at 1:52 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


> Roughly speaking they are:

You forgot Royal Albert Halls. Which is 4–5 Wembley Stadiums or 4,000 holes (Lennon–McCartney, 1967).
posted by haribilalic at 2:28 AM on January 9 [11 favorites]


I would note that there is a cure for fatbergs, and it is the MUFFIN MONSTER. And ounce of precention is worth a pound of fatberg.
posted by BReed at 2:30 AM on January 9 [5 favorites]


40K Open Channel Muffin Monsters are engineered to fit within wastewater channels or to be affixed onto wet well walls at pump station inlets.
...
All Muffin Monster grinders have two rows of hardened steel cutters that rotate at slow speed and with incredibly high-torque to grind down large solids into small particles.
Is this a Warhammer thing
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:33 AM on January 9 [19 favorites]


The 30K Muffin Monster sewage grinders are the workhorse of collections systems covering flows from 370 to 5620 gpm (84-1277 m3/hr). The 40K Muffin Monster sewage grinders are the even stronger version with robust 2 ½” (64 mm) hex shafts, larger cutters and a standard 10 HP (7.5 kW) drive motor. The 40K is for the highest solids loading environments like prisons and combined sewer pumps stations.

More evidence that prisons are full of shit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:50 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I'm in the UK and I feel like it's well known that you shouldn't dump *any* fats down the drain; this isn't limited to animal fats.

The reason this is true even for fats which are liquid at room temperature is that fatbergs are not solidified fat. They are actually saponified fat. The fats react with the minerals leaching out from the concrete to form a horrifying hard soapy substance.
posted by atrazine at 3:12 AM on January 9 [11 favorites]


We also like compare things to olympic-sized swimming pools (especially when explaining things to kids), even though there are about 10 of these in the UK compared to about 3,100 smaller public swimming pools that people actually have experience of and can visualise.

I know a couple of people in the water industry and apparently the fatberg problem is getting worse, simply because it's one of those problems too many - and an increasing number of - people think isn't theirs to help solve. The vast majority of us pay sewerage fees so too many people think the water companies should just sort it out and don't feel any personal responsibility to act more sensibly. I've seen it even in people I'd expect to act more sensibly. Just another slightly saddening indicator of where we are, really.

(I also have a pet theory that unless having a specific health condition, adult wet wipe use and poor diets go hand in hand. Dietary fibre, people, dietary fibre.)
posted by dowcrag at 3:20 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


Wet wipe marketing has definitely increased over the past 5-10 years, and while labelled "flushable", they aren't.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:31 AM on January 9 [10 favorites]


Idea for a short story: The Innsmouth Fatberg.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:38 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Is this a Warhammer thing

They are called “The 40K Muffin Monster sewage grinders....”
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:40 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


One thing that surprises me is that the US, with its much-higher prevalence of garbage disposal units, doesn't seem to have the same rate of (or at least less media about) fatbergs. Wouldn't routinely washing more kitchen waste down the drain with a garbage disposal make everything worse?

In fact the "notable cases" section on wikipedia is like 80% UK-based fatbergs. Is the UK sewage infrastructure just particularly old or something?
posted by mosst at 5:39 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


The 40K Muffin Monster sewage grinders are the even stronger version

Brother Tobias hesitated. The sewer that had seemingly boundless depths now had a claustrophobic air to it, a sense of echoes deadened. He couldn't precisely say what caught his attention: There were no sounds other than his own booming footsteps, his auspex was blank, and the floodlights of his terminator armour revealed nothing but stained rockcrete, but still the old soldier could not ignore the signs. A sense of darkness distinct from the unlit tunnel, the cold dampness clawing at him despite his void-sealed armour, the telltale creeping across his skin as reality drained away. Tobias braced himself ready, his autocannon searching for a target. Chaos approached.

It came slowly, imperceptibly, part flowing like a turbid river and part slithering like a colossal slug. Its surface was an amorphous ever-changing nightmare of fleetingly half-recognisable shapes, a horror of filth in streaks of white, amber and earth brown. Tobias held his fire, realising it useless against such a formless mass, and began to back away.

A face formed in the boiling confusion like a drowned man swirling in a cess pit. "Be not afraid," It spoke in eruptions of methane, "I come to bring you the embrace of Father Nurgle! I am his present to you, a gift made of all of your flushed tributes to him. All of your innermost essence so selflessly given shall surely reward you handsomely, for I am the Muffin Monster, and I have returned for you!"
posted by Eleven at 5:50 AM on January 9 [24 favorites]


Honestly, of all the sci-fi movies of the last century, the last one I would have thought would come true would be The Blob, but here we are.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:04 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


And I am ABSOLUTELY sure that The Fatberg of Sidmouth was a track from the infamous lost Eno solo album, Here Come The Wet Wipes.
posted by Devonian at 6:09 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


Get a bidet (either seat or handheld) and stop flushing down all the heavy wipes, ffs.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:09 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Paris, like my own city SF, has a single sewer system that does not separate sanitary sewers (term of art) from storm sewers. In general this is a good thing since all wastewater is treated before being released into the ocean or bay. In overflow situations, well, not as good. But perhaps on the balance good since water from the streets is pretty terrible. (Anticipating responses, yes, esp. in SF.)

Chicago has a similar single system and has built a diversion system where water is sent to an abandoned quarry during potential overflow scenarios. The problem though is that the amount and rate of water even a massive quarry can hold is not enough to accommodate even just a common heavy rain.

As a result untreated sewage pretty regularly flows into the Chicago River and then measures to prevent downriver flooding result in water being diverted at a couple of locks along the river and from there into Lake Michigan just north of Chicago's beaches and relatively near the water intake cribs. So after just about every rain storm Chicago water is noticeably heavily chlorinated.

So even with a 40 year multi-billion dollar construction project to capture the sewage and treat it before release....they still routinely release untreated sewage and this is expected to get more frequent and much worse as climate change brings bigger storms with more rainfall.

So when they show kayakers on the Chicago River....just hope they don't ever roll the kayak.

I suspect the reason Chicago doesn't have fatberg horror stories is because instead of flushing lard down the drain we just eat it.
posted by srboisvert at 6:39 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


"I come to bring you the embrace of Father Nurgle! I am his present to you, a gift made of all of your flushed tributes to him. All of your innermost essence so selflessly given shall surely reward you handsomely, for I am the Muffin Monster, and I have returned for you!"

"Burn the heretic. Kill the mutant. Purge the unclean. Unblock the sewer." - Captain Plunn Jerr of the 45th Cadian Janitorial Regiment.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:47 AM on January 9 [8 favorites]


One reason it might be more common in the UK, I think I remember reading building codes there don't require grease traps in restaurant plumbing. So there's just a much higher rate of discharge from commercial sources.
posted by traveler_ at 6:48 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Today we have to go without water because the municipality is "relining the sanitary sewer". Hope there aren't any fatburgs that need to be dislodged!
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 7:20 AM on January 9


Do you know the muffin monster?
posted by Going To Maine at 7:37 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I have the impression that much of this fat in the sewers is coming from the fish and chips places. Could this be true? If so, can't they convince these guys to stop dumping used oil down the drains?

I live in Houston. On occasion we have really big rains. The sanitary sewers pop their lids and the contents flow into the storm drains. The debris left behind is predominantly tampon related. People will always use their toilets as trash cans, I assume.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:00 AM on January 9


Part of it is many sewers in cities still have large sections of Victorian era design - they built them so well that they've not been substantially altered. It's a testament to the engineering that London sewers can be 150 years old, but they never could have imagined current needs. Plus the Underground makes digging in London particularly tricky.

Combine that with increasing population, the proliferating fast food outlets and pop up deliveroo restaurants etc without fat traps, plus a bunch of people who flush wet wipes and you end up with fatbergs, followed by a poonami.

Plus 45% of voters still think Brexit is a good idea, so we're not exactly the brightest population around these days.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 8:09 AM on January 9 [8 favorites]


scose: "Is this a UK-specific thing? I thought it was pretty wide knowledge that you shouldn't dump animal fats down the drain."

Work in a treatment plant in Canada: Nope, not even close. For the love of god please don't flush wet wipes, tampons, condoms or grease/fat (whether animal or vegetable).
posted by Mitheral at 8:20 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


One reason it might be more common in the UK, I think I remember reading building codes there don't require grease traps in restaurant plumbing. So there's just a much higher rate of discharge from commercial sources.

They do require that and non-compliant restaurants can be fined. The role of grease traps in Fats, Oils, and Greases based sewer obstructions is actually quite complicated as there is some evidence that poorly designed and maintained grease traps make the problem much worse because they are a source of "aged" fats which are already starting to saponify.
posted by atrazine at 8:26 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


This is Philip Jeffries now?
posted by waving at 8:31 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Is this a UK-specific thing?

I've always seen this blamed, at least in part, on wet wipes which (as mentioned in thread) seem to be far more common in the UK than in the US. If they start to catch on here, that's another thing we can expect to worry about in the general category of "being consumed by our own unnecessary waste". Sigh.
posted by The Bellman at 8:43 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I mean, it's good that people are finally realizing you shouldn't walk around with a dirty anus all day long but now that concept has been grasped it's time to work on fine-tuning the execution with mostly water and maybe just a little dry normal TP.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 AM on January 9 [3 favorites]


Fats, Oils, and Greases based sewer obstructions

is regular human grease ever a factor? like. the stuff that comes off of human people in the shower. i am specifically thinking of the people i know who leave a grubby ring around the tub.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:02 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I suspect the UK issues stem from older sewer systems in urban areas, on average, than in the US, and maybe there's something about commercial grease disposal going on. Except for the wet-wipe thing I am not sure I believe that individual domestic use/behavior really has that much of an effect.

Certainly lots of people in the US have garbage disposals and dishwashers (and US dishwashers basically have built-in garbage disposals; they don't filter anything out) and except for people who grew up with septic systems, I don't think the average person here is any more careful than the average person in the UK about kitchen grease.

Do restaurants in the UK keep their used oil for pickup by rendering plants? That is a thing in the US, basically everywhere; used cooking oil is actually a reasonably-valuable commodity. Enough so that, if you have a couple of fryers, you can get a company to leave a dumpster-type thing in back of your restaurant, free of charge, for you to dump the oil into. If you produce enough they even pay you. If that infrastructure wasn't in place I'd imagine a lot of shady little restaurants would just dump the stuff down the sewer, regulations be damned.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Do you know the muffin monster?

Who lives on Drury lane-ooooH MY GOD.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:34 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I have a septic tank and leach field because my town is not connected to a municipal sewer system. I carefully remove fats and oil from dishes, no wipes, thin toilet paper. Pretty sure it was flushed tampons and maybe wipes from my daughter-in-law that caused a disaster. Detergent, especially in the dishwasher does dissolve some fats, but avoiding sewage disasters is highly recommended.

Fatberg is really fun to say, and the autocorrecter on this tablet, which usually caused stupid weird errors, changed it to garbage in some form of Bad AI magic.
posted by theora55 at 9:46 AM on January 9


Do restaurants in the UK keep their used oil for pickup by rendering plants?

Some places give it to business that use it as biodiesel (example) but I don't think that's particularly common.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:49 AM on January 9


I live in a lower elevation section of my town, a half a block from the old downtown with its storefront restaurants and shops. At least once or twice a year I watch the drain clearing pumping truck arrive, and groups of workers going down the manhole covers to deal with something.

Last time, they were here for especially long and I was able to wander out and indulge in nosy questions. One of the workmen told me that the problem was due to a local restaurant which had emptied their grease trap into the storm drain. The city had acquired security camera footage from a neighboring business which showed exactly what happened. The restaurant was denying wrongdoing, blaming a third party they had contracted with to have their grease traps emptied. I don't know where the blame finally came to rest. But, yeah, lazy humans, they do things they think they can get away with.

I hafta say I appreciate the good work done by my local municipality. I have never had one of these drain incidents cause me any grief. But I can see they are having to actively and regularly work to keep this true, and if they were not working so hard, the story could take a turn for the worse very quickly.
posted by elizilla at 10:24 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Some years ago I took a vacation to Alaska. I traveled for hundreds of miles on roads that paralleled the oil pipeline, and stopped at interpretive displays that were very interesting. If I recall correctly this is what I learned: The crude oil travels down the pipe at a pretty slow speed, just a couple miles per hour. The oil tends to separate out as it travels and solid-ish components build up on the walls of the pipe, narrowing it. To deal with this the oil companies route these things called 'pigs' through the pipe, at intervals. The pigs clean the walls of the pipe and keep it open, and if I recall correctly they carry instrumentation that collects data about the pipe's condition. They are put in at the start, up near Prudhoe Bay, and slowly travel the hundreds of miles down to Valdez where the pipe ends and they are taken out, and then they are trucked back up to Prudhoe Bay to be used again.

It seems like there ought to be similar technology for sewers. Anyone know if there are?
posted by elizilla at 10:42 AM on January 9


Ah good, it's fatberg season again. All problems are solved.
A “leave‑backing former cabinet minister” recently stated: “We won’t be able to get certain foods like bananas or tomatoes but it’s not like we won’t be able to eat. And we’ll be leaving at a time when British produce is beginning to come into season so it’s the best possible time to leave with no deal.”
posted by duffell at 10:51 AM on January 9


It seems like there ought to be similar technology for sewers. Anyone know if there are?

Yes.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:58 AM on January 9


is regular human grease ever a factor? like. the stuff that comes off of human people in the shower. i am specifically thinking of the people i know who leave a grubby ring around the tub.

I'm pretty sure that ring is just from the type of soap one uses. Anecdata but I never had tub rings while I used shower gel, and as soon as I switched to fancy lush soap they started appearing. Aargh!

If I were to guess, even though skin and hair can be oily, the majority of the grease we discharge is probably still from our...digestive tract.
posted by mosst at 11:10 AM on January 9


Regarding pipeline pigs. They work because the pipeline is regular and smooth. Old brick or cast-in-place sewers would not be smooth enough. Also, the pig would tend to shove the grease into the side pipes, which would bring everything to a stop on those local pipes. Not ideal.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:09 PM on January 9


The purpose of showering is to degrease yourself by having detergent/soap molecules grab onto the fat molecules and render them miscible. The detergent molecules have two ends, one hydrophilic that likes water and one hydrophobic that doesn't. The hydrophobic bit burrows into the fat molecules on your skin, the hydrophilic end immerses itself in the water you're showering in, and with a quick rub-a-dub-dub the whole thing comes free and floats off down the drainpipe. That doesn't re-deposit itself, as far as i' can recall from learning about these things a very long time ago, so gets taken to the treatment plant/out to sea/whatever.

The grubby rings around the bath I remember from my youth seemed to be where clumps of skin cells floating in the surface scum of a good English bath attach themselves to the side of the bath at water level, and gradually build up. I daresay the same happens over time in sewers, but at a much slower rate than the dumping of bulk gunk.

A lot of this is affected by the type and quantity of both soap and water. Water has different ionic concentrations in different locations - hard water has lots of dissolved ions which lead to limescale, soft water very few and doesn't fur pipes - and if you have lots of ions then they attach themselves to the appropriately charged bits of the soap molecule and block its cleansing goodness.

I grew up in an area of Devon where the tapwater was basically pure Atlantic rain runoff from the granite moors, so was very low in ionic solutes. It was a shock to move to London, where water comes via chalk and limestone, as it tasted totally different, my shirts stayed dirty,and the kettle filled up with crunchy brown-yellow sheets of brittle gunk. The streets may not be paved with gold, but the pipework was with calcium carbonates.

But it wasn't until fast food really got a grip that the fatbergs began. I didn't realise until atrazine's comment that they had saponified, which makes sense Soap molecules themselves are made from fat molecules that have been broken up by alkalis, concrete pipes (and hard water in general) have lots of calcium ions, and there's a reason calcium and its pals are called alkali metals.

You can see from the map in this South West Water document that Sidmouth is in the only part of the peninsula with hard water. The rest of the place has lovely soft water unbesmirched by ions and only slightly livened up by its passage over and through the uranium-rich granites of the area.


.
posted by Devonian at 8:17 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


I hereby atone and apologize for all the times I put grease down the drain in any hemisphere.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:35 PM on January 9


Metafilter: avoiding sewage disasters is highly recommended.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:03 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


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