A 20-foot “fatberg” of congealed grease, flushable wipes and other unsavory stuff was removed Monday from a sewer pipe in Baltimore.
The massive clog in a two-foot-wide pipe under Lanvale Street between Charles Street and Maryland Avenue was detected after recent sewage overflows.
Removing it was no easy task, said Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. The job, estimated to have cost as much as $60,000, demanded water jets, a scraper and a vacuum truck to suck out the fatberg and surrounding debris. A bypass line also had to be constructed to preserve a “clean working environment,” Raymond said.
“Think about a can of lard — and multiply it,” he said.
Officials lay blame for the blockage on a culprit familiar to civil engineers: flushable wipes. One-hundred-year-old sewer systems built in an age of “nonexistent environmentalism,” Raymond said, are not equipped to handle wipes sometimes marketed as disposable that some say are anything but.
“Turns out Baltimore has its own fatberg in its sewer systems — a congealed lump of fat, along with wet wipes and other items that do not break down in sewer systems,” the Department of Public Works explained on YouTube, where a ghostly video of the fatberg was posted. “Safeguard Baltimore’s sewer system by canning the grease and trashing the wipes.”
Though the District has not encountered a high-profile fatberg like Baltimore's or London's 250-yard, 130-ton beast, the city council has jousted with some in Congress who wish to do away with anti-wipe regulation.
“Since Congress has the ultimate say over what goes on in Washington, D.C., it’s possible we would [support] an appropriations measure that makes D.C. think twice about banning a product that’s helpful — flushable wipes,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said this year. Harris offered but later withdrew an amendment that would have blocked the city from using its funds to enforce a law that prohibits disposable wipes in the D.C. sewer system.
Dallas-based wipes manufacturer Kimberly-Clark has sued the District over its law regulating when such wipes can be labeled “flushable,” alleging that the D.C. law is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate businesses beyond the city.
As the battle over wipes goes on, one thing seems settled: the term “fatberg.”
“It’s sort of the name that’s been adopted worldwide,” Raymond said.