Northern Ireland Water (NIW) staff have so far spent six Sundays breaking down a "massive fatberg" that is clogging up a sewer under takeaway restaurants in Belfast.
Hardy crews have had the unenviable task of trying to remove the Dublin Road fatberg — made of cooking fat, oil, grease, baby wipes, sanitary products and other items — with hoses and spades.
They have taken away “a couple of hundred tonnes” of fat, oil and grease (FOG) material and it is expected the operation will take several more days.
In the last two years NIW has spent over £5 million clearing blockages from the sewer system for which 70-80 per cent were “caused by FOG and inappropriate items”.
And in the past, NIW staff have had to remove everything from bells and teddy bears to Christmas trees, sofas, money and a child’s car seat from Northern Ireland’s sewers.
Gavin McCready, NIW Networks Sewerage Manager, said as the Dublin Road houses a number of fast food outlets, the problem of FOG in the sewers is significant in this area.
“While most businesses use grease traps and bin their waste correctly, those that don’t are contributing to a massive fatberg in the sewers around the area,” he said.
“Our team has been on the site, working over a number of Sunday mornings, clearing the fat that has solidified.
“This is labour intensive work that can only be done early in the morning before the traffic builds up.”
Mr McCready described the fatberg removal as a “massive project” and urged local residents and businesses to use grease traps and bin FOG rather than pouring it down sewers. “We would appeal to all our customers, especially food outlets, to dispose of their FOG appropriately,” he said.
“For householders, let it cool and then put it into the bin. Alternatively, pour it into a disposable container and take it to your local oil bank.
“Businesses they also risk blocking their own drainage systems, which results in extra costs being incurred in clean-up efforts.”
Fatbergs can not only result in out of sewer flooding, but also odour problems and the risk of rat infestations. NIW said recent research carried out showed that 96 per cent of people were surprised by how much impact they could have on blockages and a further 49 per cent thought it was mainly NI Water’s responsibility to reduce blockages.
“We are doing our part by investing in the network, however, we will never win this battle alone; upgrading sewers will not stop blockages if the public are going to continue flushing inappropriate items such as wipes and disposing of FOG down the drain,” Mr McCready added. “We need the support of the public and businesses to dispose of these items properly.”