A one-tonne fatberg made mostly of wet wipes, paper towels and tissues was found blocking a Queensland sewer yesterday.
Weighing similar to a small car, it took four sewage plant operators five hours to manually remove with shovels and pitch forks.
Experts warned supply issues with toilet paper due to panic buying at the start of the coronavirus pandemic could cause massive blocks in our sewage system as other products were flushed down toilets and it appears they were right.
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Sewage workers from Urban Utilities’ Bundamba Sewage Treatment Plant, just outside of Brisbane, had never seen anything like it, and they blame it on the coronavirus pandemic.
Urban Utilities spokesperson, Michelle Cull, said they were continuing to see an influx of non-flushable items in the local sewerage network during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen a 30 per cent increase in the volume of rag arriving at our Bundamba Plant,” she told news.com.au.
“The 1-tonne rag ball was the biggest one we’ve ever had at the plant but it’s just the tip of the fatberg.
“Across our network, we’ve also seen a 35 per cent increase in blockages in sewer pipes caused by foreign objects, such as wet wipes.”
Unlike toilet paper, which disintegrates quickly after it’s flushed, wet wipes, paper towels and even tissues are made from stronger fibres, designed to stop them from breaking apart.
Urban Utilities Plant Manager, Mandy Murchison, said in her 13 years working in wastewater treatment, she had never seen the daily volume of rag hit over a tonne.
“With so many people working from home we’ve seen a significant increase in flows coming into our smaller plants like Bundamba and with those flows has come more wet wipes,” she said.
“As a result, we’ve had to increase our inspections of the plant’s inlet works, where the rag is screened and removed.
“It’s a smelly job for our team who has to remove it, so it can be hauled off to landfill – which is where it all should have gone in the first place.”
Ms Cull said flushing the wrong thing could also cause costly blockages in private plumbing.
“The pipes that carry the wastewater away from your home are only between 10-15cm in diameter so it doesn’t take much for them to get clogged up with wet wipes, paper towels, fat and other nasties that shouldn’t be down there,” she said.
“It’s easy to do the right thing – instead of flushing these items, place them in the bin, avoiding a mess in our pipes or a big plumbing bill in yours.
“Our advice is always to only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and paper.”
It’s not even the company’s most shocking find in the subterranean underworld of sewage — earlier this year news.com.au reported on numerous deadly snakes which they find hiding in pipes during a routine check.
Urban Utilities spends nearly half a million dollars a year disposing and transporting rubbish to landfill from its pump stations and treatment plants.
That number is likely set to increase following the coronavirus pandemic.