Tower bridge

Outrageous 'fatberg' is found blocking London sewer system

London: a city renowned for history and culture. Famed for its museums and galleries, its parks and areas of natural beauty, and now... its sewers.

Despite being one of the most technologically and architecturally advanced cities in the world, London is severely lacking when it comes to having a well-developed sewer system. The city was one of the first to have an underground system for dealing with waste - but, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have updated it all that much since it was first built.

Because of this, things called 'fatbergs' can occur. A fatberg is pretty much a blockage comprised of all those gory things that people pour down drains or flush down toilets without giving a second thought to: congealed fat, wet wipes, diapers, oil, condoms and sanitary products. Unlike in the US, most UK homes do not have garbage disposals, either, so large bits of food waste that get washed down the sink can clog up drains as well.

a fatberg beneath whitechapel Credit: BBC

Most recently, a fatberg has been discovered in the sewers beneath Whitechapel. The blockage is a quarter of a kilometre (820 feet) in length, which is about the same as Tower Bridge, and weighs 130 tonnes. That's roughly the same mass as 65 African Elephants, or, if we want to stay local, 11 double decker buses.

The pipes actually date all the way back to the Victorian era, around the same time that the infamous Jack the Ripper was also in Whitechapel. Because the sewer system is so old, and the population of London has obviously increased massively over the last 150 years, the pipes can't physically deal with the amount of waste that passes through them.

Tower bridge Credit: Getty

Thames Water, the company in charge of managing the pipes in the area, have said that the fatberg is one of the largest they've ever seen - and getting rid of it won't be easy. Matt Rimmer, the head of waste networks at Thames Water, stated that, "It's a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it's set hard."

It's expected to take up to three weeks to remove the beast of a blockage, but it's not exactly a plunger job. A team of eight workers - who are literally employed to take crap - will be sent into the sewers to break up the mass using high-pressure hoses, after which it will be sucked up into tankers and moved to a recycling site in Stratford just a few miles away.

fatberg under whitechapel Credit: BBC

This is not the first time that such a large mass has been found, either.

Three years ago, a fatberg the size of a Boeing 747 airplane was found beneath Shepherd's Bush, another area of London. Then, in 2015, a two-month operation to remove a blockage in Chelsea went underway. The fatberg was only 40 metres long, but it cost approximately £400,000 ($530,000) to repair the damage.

In a statement about the operation to remove the fatberg in Whitechapel, Rimmer said that "It's frustrating as these situations are totally avoidable," before pleading with people to avoid putting non-biodegradable items down drains. "The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish," he said, "and our message to everyone is clear - please bin it - don't block it."