Deep in the sewers of an English seaside town, there once lay a dreadful beast: a 64-meter-long (210 foot) “fatberg” made of congealed cooking oil, gelatinous gunk, soiled wet wipes, diapers, and sanitary towels.
The fatberg was discovered by South West Water just before Christmas last year in the sewers beneath Sidmouth in Devon, southwest England. Following the removal of the fatberg from the sewer, scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK have now completed the grueling autopsy of its contents.
While certainly not a pleasant task, the autopsy provided some surprisingly positive news: the fatberg contained very little evidence of microplastic pollution, relatively low levels of pathogens, and just small traces of pharmaceuticals or pesticides.
“We worried that the fatberg might concentrate fat-soluble chemicals such as those found in contraceptives, contain now-banned microplastic beads from cosmetics and be rich in potentially pathogenic microbes, but we found no trace of these possible dangers,” project leader Professor John Love, a synthetic biology expert at the University of Exeter, said in a statement.
They did, however, discover that it was also laced with all kinds of strange objects, including a pair of false teeth, bits of bone, and twigs.
“We were all rather surprised to find that this Sidmouth fatberg was simply a lump of fat aggregated with wet wipes, sanitary towels and other household products that really should be put in the bin and not down the toilet. The microfibres we did find probably came from toilet tissue and laundry, and the bacteria were those we would normally associate with a sewer,” Love said.
Their research suggests that there wasn’t one clear source that was responsible for the fatberg, nor was there a particular business, neighborhood, or demographic of people to blame. However, the story of the Sidmouth fatberg should serve people as a reminder of what not to flush down your toilet.
“Please only flush the 3Ps – pee, paper, and poo – down the loo and to dispose of fat, oil, and grease in the bin, not down the sink,” said Andrew Roantree, South West Water’s Director of Wastewater.
This warning is especially true for wet wipes – including ones that claim to be flushable – as they contribute to more than 90 percent of sewer blockages in the UK.
Congealed fat fans may remember a similar story of a fatberg discovered in the sewers of Whitechapel, East London, in 2017. That record-breaking bad boy measured over 250 meters (820 feet) tip to tip and weighed a staggering 130 tonnes (143 tons).
If you’re wondering why these 'bergs always seem to be found in the UK, it’s generally thought to be down to the nation's aging 150-year-old sewers that date back to the Victorian era, especially in London.