Comment: Monster of the deep 05 February 2019

A ‘monster’ fatberg, longer than six double-decker buses, has been found in Devon. South West Water says it’s the largest mass of oil, grease and wet wipes discovered in its service history.

Public awareness of fatbergs is on the up. Last year, another fatberg was discovered in London, grabbing the attention of the media, including Greg James of BBC Radio One, who did a live broadcast ‘from the fatberg’ (video at There is also a growing interest among the public and manufacturers in tackling waste pollution, inland and at sea.

Getting people and manufacturers on board in tackling pollution is a welcome step. In January, it was announced that an official standard has been published that identifies what wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely, but it may be just one part of the solution.

UK sewer systems, in some form or another, have a lengthy history, dating back to the BC era. A new system really took off in the 1800s though – first in London when disease was rife – before being adopted elsewhere. Such systems are still in operation today, so could that be a contributing factor in the fatberg problem? They weren’t built to deal with the products we have today – fats, oils and grease are so common; just look at the many consumer products on offer, such as soaps, bleach, conditioners, and cooking oils.

Nor were our sewer systems built at a time when the UK population was so high (1801: population estimate 8-10 million; 2017: population estimate 66 million; 2041: projected to reach a population of 73 million).

Plastic items such as wet wipes are a problem and it’s only right that a new standard has been published. However, I also question whether the UK’s sewage network is fit for purpose in dealing with the chemicals being poured down its throat. Sewer alligators may be a myth, but fatbergs are not. Maybe it’s time for our wastewater systems to be rethought and redeveloped.

Adam Offord

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