Long thought to be an issue that plagued the United Kingdom most acutely, the scourge of fatbergs has been making itself known stateside.
Fatbergs, the pipe-jamming, motor-blocking globules that form when people dispose of so-called “flushable” wipes through their toilets, have been known to reach the size of buses in London’s sewers. Despite their whimsical name, they pose very real dangers for wastewater systems, potentially causing sewage floods and breaking expensive equipment at treatment facilities. In a sign that the issue isn’t going away soon, New York City has recently taken efforts to inform its citizens of the dangers of flushing these wipes.
“Recently, the city has launched a campaign to make residents more aware of fatbergs, or ‘fat icebergs,’ which are human-created nightmares found in our sewer systems,” Gothamist reported. “These ‘masses of congealed grease and personal hygiene products’ have caused big problems across the pond, and NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] wants to make sure we don’t reach British Fatberg Levels.”
Though New York’s problem with fatbergs hasn’t quite reached the epidemic proportions of that in England, the campaign appears much needed. A DEP official told Gothamist that the city experienced more than 2,100 sewer backups as a result of grease and wipes — 90 percent of all backups in the city. In 2017, New York City removed over 53,000 tons of debris from its treatment plant screens, most of which was comprised of wipes.
But sometimes wastewater treatment operations aren’t able to catch and remove fatbergs before they cause real damage. Last year, for instance, local residents felt the fallout.
“A woman in New Jersey has a warning for fellow homeowners after raw sewage flooded her basement, causing over $50,000 in damage,” per CBS New York. “Anne Pryor, of Chatham, was one of three victims of something called a ‘fatberg.’”
As in the UK, New York City officials seem to see a solution to the problem in changing consumer behavior. Through the public awareness campaign, they hope to keep residents from flushing these wipes in the first place and change the perception that these wipes are truly “flushable.”
“The city is calling it the ‘fight against fatbergs,’ with the goal of having a fatberg-free NYC,” according to CBS New York. “The DEP says New Yorkers also need to trash wipes that are labeled ‘flushable.’ They may make it down your toilet, but none of them make it through sewer pipes.”