Disgusting find in Sydney wastewater creates $15 million problem

More than 500 tonnes of greasy, matted 'fatbergs' are removed from the city's sewerage system every year.

Sydney residents are being urged to reconsider what they're flushing down the toilet and putting down sinks, as the number of major blockages in the city's sewerage system continues to rise.

According to Sydney Water, more than 500 tonnes of greasy, matted 'fatbergs' are removed from our wastewater system every year, with an average of 13 blockages removed a day — and it's costing nearly $15 million to clean-up each year.

And on top of that costly annual bill, the problem poses a hidden "danger" to the public health of Australians, a water expert has told Yahoo News Australia.

Fatberg being removed from wastewater drains.
More than 500 tonnes of 'fatbergs' are removed from the Sydney wastewater system every year. Source: 7News

A 'fatberg' refers to the often enormous blockage pulled from our drains which is usually made up of foreign items that should never enter the waterways. They get bigger and bigger over time and wreak havoc on our sewers. Photos shared by 7News show just how big some can be.

'Fatbergs' are a major problem for Aussies

Ian Wright, an associate professor from the School of Science at Western Sydney University told Yahoo that "wet wipes are an obvious and stupid thing society put down the toilet", an issue that was heightened during the Covid pandemic. Images released by Sydney Water in 2019 show the severity of blockages caused by the wipes – but it's much more than that.

"Things like hair and cotton buds are also a major problem, and it's the cooking fats too," he said. "So much of it does come down to what we do in the privacy of our home and it's not something that can be monitored."

The solution is simple according to Mr Wright, a water researcher and scientist, who says the $15 million figure "is an incredible understatement". The problem is "enormously bigger" than the hefty cost associated with the clean-up, and it comes down to public health.

Fatbergs are often made up of cotton buds, wet wipes, oil and grease and also hair. Source: 7News
Fatbergs are often made up of cotton buds, wet wipes, oil and grease and also hair. Source: 7News

To the average person, putting the wrong thing down the sink or toilet could "jeopardise public health in your area" he warned.

"The sewer in your street could block and kids walking to school could walk through a puddle and not realise that’s actually raw sewage," he explained. "Raw sewage is infectious and that’s the really, really dangerous thing."

Hair 'one of the biggest problems'

While the most obvious culprits are often cotton buds and wet wipes, hair is one of the biggest problems. "It's dreadfully easy to put down the sink and that is really strong stuff. It congeals with fat and wet wipes and a blockage starts to build. They are unbelievably difficult to get out," he said.

According to Sydney Water, Blacktown, Liverpool and Baulkham Hills are among the suburbs that have had the most blockages in the past 12 months. Castle Hill, Quakers Hill, Penrith and Double Bay also made the list, 7News reported.

"I think reminding people about it is a really good idea," said Mr Wright. "I encourage the water industry to put it on their water bills, just to remind people that this is to keep your neighbourhood clean."

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