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Sidmouth fatberg ‘autopsy' results revealed

Household cooking fats and hygiene products were the main ingredients behind the giant fatberg found lurking under a Devon seaside town last year, scientists have revealed.

Experts from the University of Exeter have been examining samples from the 64-metre fatberg, which was discovered underneath the streets of Sidmouth by South West Water, just before Christmas 2018.

At the time, it was the biggest ever discovered in Devon and thought to be one of the largest found so close to the sea.

The scientists were asked to carry out an extensive “autopsy” of the fatberg to try and solve the mystery of how it was constructed, and whether it posed any environmental risks.

The team found that the samples they received were mostly made of animal fats – consistent with domestic food preparation – combined with household hygiene products such as wet wipes and sanitary products, as well as natural and artificial fibres from toilet tissues and laundry.

Fortunately, the team found the fatberg contained no detectable levels of toxic chemicals – meaning its presence in the sewer, while increasing the risk of a blockage, did not pose a chemical or biological risk to the environment or human health.

“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,’ said project lead, Professor John Love.

“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.”

South West Water’s director of wastewater, Andrew Roantree, added: “Although we deal with around 8,500 blocked sewers every year, the Sidmouth fatberg was by far the largest discovered in our service history. We wanted to learn as much as we could about it, how it was created and what it was made of to help us avoid further fatbergs in future.

“The results confirm our suspicions, that fat and non-flushable products such as wipes are the main culprits, and that fatbergs are a consequence of the individual and collective impact that our behaviour has on our environment. 

“We will be using these results to help us education, inform and change the behaviours of people in terms of what they are putting down the toilet and sink. That’s not just applicable to Sidmouth, but across our region,” added Roantree.

Although the Sidmouth fatberg made headlines all over the world, South West Water said that fat can still be seen entering the sewer.

“We really do need the help of the people of Sidmouth and the South West to prevent another fatberg forming. 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,” he added.

Author: Jamie Hailstone,
Topic: Customer experience , Pipes & Pipelines , Sewer Networks
Tags: South West Water , fatberg


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