Fatberg discovered in sewer main under Baltimore

Posted at 4:48 PM, Sep 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 19:26:35-04

Baltimore City Department of Public Works is dealing with a clogged pipe problem. A congealed lump of fat in a sewer pipe is creating a blockage that’s caused nearly 1.2 million gallons of sewage overflow into the Jones Falls.

The grease plug is described as a clog of titanic proportions.

“Large clump of grease. It's hardened, it sits in our pipes and it contributes to sanitary overflows,” said Jennifer Combs, a public relations officer with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works.

The “fatberg” sits beneath the City somewhere between Penn Station and the 1700 block of Charles Street.

“It's not unusual that we'll get an overflow, but we didn't have any rain and we were getting overflows so we were like, ‘well, what's happening here,’” said Combs.

Engineers discovered a disgusting mass of grease, fat, and debris congealing to the walls of a 24 inch pipe blocking an estimated 85 percent of sewage flow. The cause is due to the build-up of bad practices.

“The best thing you can do is keep the grease out of your pipes,” Combs said.

The City requires commercial businesses to participate in the Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) program. Restaurants are inspected at least once a year and issued penalties for not properly controlling grease.

“As you can imagine, the restaurants really have a lot more of it and they have a bigger volume of fats so having them take responsibility for discarding the grease rather than putting it down the drain will go a long to helping our sewage backups,” said Angela Haren, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.

According to DPW, 35 percent of food service establishments are not in compliance with FOG Program requirements. In 2013, the non-compliance rate was 45 percent. 

And at the beginning of the program, 20 percent of the facilities did not have grease control devices. That percentage is now down to 1 percent and DPW is currently taking escalated enforcement actions against facilities that lack adequate grease control. 

Haren said the large scale clog also has a large scale impact on water quality.

“A lot of stench, a lot of bacterial contamination, and it's a human health hazard and it's a problem,” Haren said,

On September 21, Blue Water Baltimore took a water sample above the sewage overflow and below it. Bacterial levels above the sewage overflow were considered fine. Bacteria levels in the Inner Harbor were 40 times higher than the safe swimming limit.

In order to clear out the “fatberg,” the City will send in a piece of equipment that scrapes the sides of the pipe. They'll then remove the grease through a manhole and send it to the landfill. As of Tuesday afternoon, DPW did not have an estimate on the when the work would be complete or how much it would cost to remove the “fatberg.”

Private residences are not subject to the same regulations as food service establishments but are encouraged to take steps to keep fats, oils and grease and non-flushable items out of the sewer system.

Some recommendations include pouring unused grease from the “pan to the can.” Once it solidifies in an empty can, put it in the trash. And to not flush “flushable” wipes, put them in the trash instead Wet wipes don’t break down in water and create sewer blockages.