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Thames Water tackles 'monster' fatberg in Whitechapel

Thames Water engineers have embarked on a three-week sewer scheme in Whitechapel to remove a 250m-long fatberg that is ten times bigger than the infamous one found in Kingston back in 2013.

The Whitechapel fatberg is one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double decker buses. It is blocking a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two Wembley football pitches and weighs-in at a staggering 130 tonnes.

Thames Water’s head of waste networks, Matt Rimmer, said: “This fatberg is up there with the biggest we’ve ever seen. It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard. It’s basically like trying to break up concrete. It’s frustrating as these situations are totally avoidable and caused by fat, oil and grease being washed down sinks and wipes flushed down the loo.”

An eight-strong crew is using high-powered jet hoses to break up the mass before sucking it out with tankers, which take it away for disposal at a recycling site in Stratford.

They will remove, on average, 20 to 30 tonnes per shift with work starting at 8am and continuing until 5pm seven days a week.

Rimmer said: “We check our sewers routinely but these things can build up really quickly and cause big problems with flooding, as the waste gets blocked. It’s fortunate in this case that we’ve only had to close off a few parking bays to get to the sewer. Often, we have to shut roads entirely, which can cause widespread disruption – especially in London.”

CCTV camera inspections showed the 1,200mm high by 700mm wide sewer to be totally blocked by the fatberg which is 3.5m deep below ground for 250m. Work will continue throughout September until the sewer is clear.

Thames Water serves 15 million customers and spends around £1M a month clearing blockages from its sewers in London and the Thames Valley, all caused by items like fat, wipes, nappies, cotton buds, sanitary products and condoms. That’s an average of three fat related blockages and 4.8 blockages caused by items like wet wipes every hour.

The Kingston fatberg was discovered in August 2013. CCTV investigations found the mound of fat had reduced the 70x48cm sewer to just 5% of its normal capacity.

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