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London Restaurants Have Created a ‘Monster Fatberg' Under the City

“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.”
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Arne Hendriks

An underground demon is plaguing London. Silently and stealthily, it grows terrifyingly in size and slithers through the sewers below our feet like a globby basilisk, waiting until the day it can rise above ground and take over the city. Well, something like that. We're talking, of course, about the East London fatberg: a nightmarish 130-tonne mass of congealed fat, oil, nappies, and wet wipes currently blocking the sewers under the streets of Whitechapel. Thames Water discovered the huge blockage during routine inspections last month, reporting that as well as weighing the same as 19 African elephants, the fatberg is around 250 metres long—the same length as Tower Bridge.


Speaking to the Guardian shortly after the discovery, Thames Water 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.

Since then, workmen using shovels and high-powered jets have been working non-stop to break up the fatberg, with work expected to continue this month to repair the damage this has caused to Whitechapel's Victorian sewer system.

And as the work continues, new survey findings from Thames Water reveal that London restaurants may have played a part in creating the monster.

It found that 90 percent of the restaurants on Whitechapel Road—a busy arterial road right above where the fatberg was found lurking—do not use grease traps in their kitchens. This means that grease and oil from plates or utensils gets washed down pipes and drains and into the sewer.

Thames Water sewer network manager Stephen Pattenden explained to the Guardian: "We're not suggesting anyone intentionally pours the contents of a fat fryer down the drain, but it's more about the gunk that comes from dirty plates, pots, and pans. A simple, well-maintained grease trap will capture that stuff and stop it entering the sewer and turning into a monster fatberg."

He added that restaurant owners who did not install grease traps would face prosecution. Thames Water is also running a campaign that urges residents to bin non-disposable items such as baby wipes and cotton buds, in an attempt to curb future sewer blockages.

The fatberg may sound like a terrifying alien life-form from an 80s sci-fi movie but it's not all bad. Tanker-loads of the congealed mass will be taken to a specialist plant run by Argent Energy and converted into about 10,000 litres of biodiesel, which burns more cleanly than regular diesel.

Thames Water waste network manager Alex Saunders explained to the Guardian: "Even though they are our worst enemy, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them, in the form of biodiesel, is a far better solution for everyone."

Maybe we can learn to love this monster, after all.