Last September, London's Whitechapel fatberg went viral. It was one of the largest on record, measuring 250 meters (820 feet) tip to tip and weighing a staggering 130 tonnes (143 tons) – roughly equivalent to 19 adult African elephants or 878 sumo wrestlers.
But it pales in comparison to the latest 'berg discovered in London's sewers. The monster recently found near the South Bank in Central London is estimated to be 750 meters (2,460 feet) long, which would make it three times the size of its record-breaking predecessor and twice the size of the Empire State Building.
This evening, Brits with a strong stomach can tune into Channel 4 to watch a team of flushers perform the unenviable task of dissecting a 5-tonne (5.5-ton) sample of the beast to discover what exactly it is Londoners have been flushing down their toilets. Warning: viewing really isn't for the faint-hearted.
Fatbergs are a gruesome concoction of congealed fat, human waste, sanitary products, wet wipes, and condoms, and tests confirm that this particular monster is almost 90 percent discarded cooking oil.
“The fat sticks to the side of the pipe, the wet wipes come down and stick to the fat, other fat comes down and sticks to the wet wipes and that adds to the mass of the fatberg,” explained Andy Drinkwater, a civil engineering consultant, according to The Guardian.
In and among the fat and wet wipes, the team discovered traces of street drugs and illegal gym drugs, revealing a darker side to London life. Somewhat surprisingly, banned sports-enhancing supplements, such as hordenine and ostarine, which are used to promote muscle growth, were detected more often than recreational drugs like MDMA and cocaine. The flushers also found baggies, a needle, and a syringe.
Most worrying was the level of potentially life-threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Listeria, Campylobacter, and E. coli) the team detected. Not only does this pose a risk to London's sewage workers who spend their days trudging through the public's mess to keep the city clean, it could also be a public health risk if there was ever a sewage overflow.
The Southbank fatberg is just one of 12 currently lurking in London's sewage system, all of which have to be dealt with by flushers by hand. The arduous job of cleaning and removing fatbergs costs Thames Water £930,000 ($1.3 million) every single month, and the situation is getting worse.
“We and other water companies are facing a constant battle to keep the nation’s sewers free from fatbergs and other blockages,” said Thames Water’s waste networks manager, Alex Saunders.
Part of the problem is an old and outdated sewage system, perfectly capable of dealing with the "Great Stink" in Victorian England but perhaps not quite up to task in a growing and modernizing city. However, there are things Londoners can do to help. One thing is to think before you flush.
Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers. Channel 4/Youtube