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Fatberg on display at Museum of London is breeding its own flies

fatbergThames Water

  • Last September, utility workers in London were
    horrified to find an 820-foot concrete-thick ‘fatberg’ that had

    wedged itself into the city’s sewers
    , fed by oil, wet wipes
    and trash.
  • It took a crew of eight roughly three weeks to break up
    the sewage block, which was converted into biofuel.
  • The only two remaining hunks of the fatberg have been
    dried out and put on display, and are breeding flies in the
    Museum of London.

People throw all kinds of oily, greasy, messy stuff down the
drain at home. Now, some of that sewage is taking its revenge

Hunks of a massive London “fatberg” are going on display this
Friday at the Museum of London.

The stomach-churning rock-hard mass, which weighed as much as ten
double-decker buses underground, took up an area the
size of two football fields in the city’s aging Victorian-era
sewers last fall.

The mess prompted renewed calls for people to stop throwing
things other than toilet paper and bodily fluids down the

Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks,

told Reuters
 that the mix of wet wipes, diapers,
cosmetic grease, cooking oil, soaps and other toilet trash can
congeal into a hardened form as tough to break up as

“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.” Rimmer said.

But London loo-goers aren’t the only ones suffering from
greasy modern-age icebergs of underground filth. Similar
fatbergs have recently been unearthed in Australia, Wales
Baltimore, Maryland

In New York City,
grease accounted for 71% of sewer backups city wide
in 2016
, while debris and trash clogged up another 16% of the
city’s pipes. 

Thames Water spent weeks blasting through the fall clog,
which stretched longer than 2 football fields (820 feet). Workers
had to break it up with high-powered hoses before it was
converted to biofuels.

But they managed to
preserve a couple of small, shoebox-sized hunks for the Museum of
London, where curator Vyki Sparkes is thrilled to have the
world-first exhibit on display. 

How to display a fatberg

The only tricky part, Sparkes said, was figuring out how to
showcase a disease-inducing fatberg in a way that wouldn’t make
museum visitors sick. The toxic chemicals in sewer gas include
stinky hydrogen sulfide, and sniffing the chemicals can be

“In the end we decided air-drying was probably the
form [of preservation]” Sparkes told
Business Insider. “I
t’s less of a splash

The samples, which were carried up through manholes and
then dried out and monitored for toxic gases, are already not
quite the same as they were in the sewer. 

“They used to be a lot wetter and browner and a
bit waxy looking, but now they’ve dried
a lot and are sort of
quite crumbly, 
almost a bit
moon rock,” Sparkes
said. (If moon rock were made of palm oil, diapers,
wet wipes and discarded chocolate wrappers, that is.)

Clogmia_Albipunctata moth fly drain fly sewer fly
A sewer fly, known by the
scientific name ‘Psychodidae.’

Acharya/Wikimedia/Attribution license

Sparkes said the museum staff has watched the fatberg hatch
flies this week. On Tuesday, she saw at least three hanging out
in a sealed container.  

“We have no idea in the long term what might happen to
this,” Sparkes said. 

“There is a risk

it basically turns into a pile of dead

The exhibit, which opens to the public in London on Friday
Feb 9, is free and unticketed.


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