Baltimore’s Sewer-Dwelling ‘Fatberg’ is No More

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A view from inside the pipe. Image via DPW.

 

City work crews yesterday laid into the massive hunk of congealed fat, wet wipes and literal crap that piled up under Station North.

The “fatberg,” as it was called, was removed live on a closed circuit feed. Video from WBAL-TV offers a gag-worthy crawl-up view to the obstructive mass in the sewer.

It built up over many years, adding girth from congealed fats and grease dumped down drains by city residents and their not-so-flushable wet wipes, among other detritus. At 140 tons, it was large enough to block 85 percent a 24-inch sewer main.

Crews yesterday journeyed down a manhole and used a high-powered pressure washer and a vacuum to suck out the bulk of the fatberg. Officials said last week that the effort would cost $60,000, and the removed debris would be taken to a landfill.

DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher wrote in an email that the contractor is still working at the site today.

“They have been removing sediments, grease and other items that prevent the smooth flow of sewer inside the pipe,” he said. “If everything goes well, it will be completed by tomorrow noon. No break or other structural defects have been observed so far.”

The amount of removed grease hasn’t been quantified just yet, he added.

The fatberg may have been good fodder for jokes, but it really was an absolute mess for the city’s infrastructure and, as a result, the beleaguered Jones Falls. When officials announced its discovery roughly three weeks ago, they revealed recent fatberg-related backups had caused 1.2 million gallons of sewage combined to overflow from a structured outfall into the Jones Falls. Unlike most intentional sewage ejections that happen here in Baltimore when the sewers become flooded with rain, the two incidents that contributed to that total happened during dry weather.

The city and Baltimore County are working on a separate, ambitious project called Headworks to install high-powered pumps at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Essex. That, they say, will help to alleviate the miles-long sewage backup that causes most of the disgusting sewage spills into the Jones Falls, and eventually close the two remaining structured outfalls. It’s supposed to finished by late 2020, officials say.

What Headworks can’t do is stop us from creating another fatberg through our idiotic kitchen grease disposal methods. As DPW communications chief Jeffrey Raymond explained in an email to Baltimore Fishbowl in September:

Much better is preventing them by not letting fats, oils, and grease down the drain. Using hot water isn’t good because the stuff congeals when the water cools. Same with dish soap; the soap chemicals dissolve and allow the grease to harden again. Better to scrape it into a container that can be trashed, or using a paper towel to wipe the pans.

In remembrance, take a long, hard look at the Fatberg in this video shared by DPW last month.

This story has been updated with comment from the Department of Public Works.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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