Climate Change in the Sewer: Melting the Fatbergs


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A couple of years ago stories about a “fatberg” the size of a double-decker bus hit the news. Fatbergs—collections of congealed grease and non-degrading materials—have at times reached enormous sizes and have become expensive blockages in municipal sewers. The most striking examples of fatbergs have been found in the old sewers of London, where time and narrow passageways have combined to create conditions that lead to extraordinary and repelling fatbergs.

These monstrosities have at times led to massive blockages and sewer backups. Moreover, when the sewer is pumped against such a blockage, as when the sewer rises uphill, fatbergs have at times caused pipe failures from over-pressure. The sewer system has had, in effect, a stroke.

These industrial-grade sewage disasters have correspondingly industrial-grade responses. But there are steps householders can take to prevent—and fix—the home-scale equivalents of these huge fatbergs. Be forewarned: it doesn’t require Victorian-era sewers and British cooking to create fatbergs: we are also vulnerable to similar blockages in our own homes.

Drain/Sewer Preventive Maintenance

Preventing the troubles caused by drain blockages is, in the first instance, a matter of sewage hygiene: how’s that for a contradiction in terms? Know what NOT to send down a drain. Drains have strainers or grates that prevent really big items going down, and normally the main line (sewer line) from the house widens as it leaves the foundation and heads to the city connection at the street or property line. You would think that would be enough to prevent blockages, but it’s what happens inside the pipe, sometimes well along, that causes the problem.

Melting Fatbergs 1

Fats, oils, and greases can harden as they leave the house, encountering colder temperatures and emulsifying with water. As they become more viscous, they also tend to adhere more readily to the pipe’s inside walls, and to non-dissolving items in the sewage flow. Things such as paper towel might readily dissolve in water, but other items, such as wet wipes, scraps of plastic wrap, elastic bands, dental floss, and so on are much more persistent. In addition, these items can snag on intruding roots or pipe joints or burrs. So you should also, as a preventative measure, reduce the risks of root intrusion.

Melting Fatbergs

Thing collect, and before long, you have a problem, manifested in slow-draining piping and sewage backups. At this point, remedial action is needed.

Sometimes, occasional use of a drain cleaning chemical can keep blockages from forming. It’s best to look for pipe cleaning chemicals that are NOT acids, but are instead enzyme-based cleaners that break down oils and greases without damaging piping. Snaking pipes and inserting root-cutting gear can also help.

Further upstream you might be able to clear clogs yourself if your system is equipped with clean outs and accessible traps.

Pipe inspection

Pipe inspection can help to narrow down the cause and location of a blockage, and is one of the drain services that Master Drain offers. Services include:

  • Drain snaking/cleaning
  • Drain video camera inspection
  • Drain/sewer underground inspection
  • Tree root removal from drain pipes
  • Fixing plugged drains
  • Emergency drain service/repair

Preventing drainage problems is always preferable to fixing them, and this advice should help. But remember, if you are really stuck, Master Drain is knowledgeable, equipped, and ready to help.

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We specialize in residential and commercial drain repairs, drain cleaning services and water pressure problems in Greater Toronto Area. We also service damaged pipes and drains caused by tree roots and will investigate to see if you are entitled to a rebate from municipality for such work.

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