Dissolving Sewer Grease Problems

Michigan utility efficiently clears hundreds of cubic yards of grease from a 42-inch trunk line.
Dissolving Sewer Grease Problems
A view down one of the manholes along the trunk line, where grease had built up almost to the top of the pipe.

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Below the streets of Livonia, Michigan, a massive and growing volume of FOG threatened to disrupt a thriving industrial corridor. The local wastewater utility needed an immediate solution.

Livonia is a carefully planned community of residential, industrial, commercial and civic development with a population of approximately 100,000. Centrally located between Detroit and Ann Arbor at the intersection of two major freeways — I-96, which travels east and west, and I-275, which travels north and south — the city’s ease of access has a strong appeal.

A 6-mile corridor containing more than 32 million square feet of manufacturing space and 4 million square feet of office space is home to a variety of industrial companies. With annual household income levels 33 percent above the national average, Livonia is also an excellent place for retail, dining and entertainment.

Vibrant and active communities like Livonia have to be especially proactive when it comes to maintaining underground infrastructure due to heavy demand. As a result, Livonia’s Public Works Department regularly assesses and cleans sewer lines to ensure the highest levels of flow to keep the city productive and healthy.

During a recent inspection of the city’s collections system by United Resource, a Livonia-based company that cleans and televises sewer lines, an isolated area that had accumulated significant grease was identified. “We inspected half a million feet of pipe and were able to videotape about 70 percent of the lines without incident,” says David Guth, president and founder of United Resource. “We did find one area, however, that had accumulated a significant amount of grease that would require removal in order for the inspection to be completed.”

The area identified was a section of 42-inch trunk line that runs from one end of the city’s border to the other. Located along the busy I-96 corridor, the line collects waste from industries and businesses from all directions. Guth estimated the 2-mile stretch of the 42-inch pipe contained hundreds of cubic yards of grease.

“We saw the inspection photos and knew that we needed to act right away to preserve the integrity of our pipes,” says Don Rohraff, Livonia’s director of Public Works. “It appeared to be a very large volume of grease in what we know to also be a very high-flow pipe.”

Along with its finding, United Resource presented the city with an innovative solution to remove the grease while minimizing cost and disruption.

“We had worked with Duke’s Root Control on a number of projects over the years, including a large root control project at Michigan State University,” Guth says. “I knew how effectively their products killed roots in sewer systems, so I wanted to find out if they had any products that could help with grease. I reached out to Bob Hunn and he told me about JetPower II from Duke’s Sales and Service. He provided case studies of how well it worked for other cities, so we decided to recommend it to Livonia to treat this isolated area.”

City officials were familiar with the product and approved the recommendation on the spot. Rohraff says they wanted to remove the grease immediately to eliminate the possibility of further inconvenience to residents and businesses. United Resource went to work right away.

“You only need 1 percent of JetPower II for every gallon of water,” Guth says. “For this job we used a 4,000-gallon water tanker, which meant we only needed 40 gallons of JetPower II. We agitated the water and JetPower II inside of a water truck for about 15 minutes to get a good mix. Then we pumped the mixture into our jet/vac truck.

“From there, the mixture entered the pipe with a rotating-type nozzle that sprayed the degreaser, which was applied at a uniform rate from manhole to manhole. When we got to the end of the run, we shut it all down for 10 to 15 minutes, and then turned everything back on, spraying as we pulled back.

“Almost immediately we saw that the grease was liquefying, turning into a substance that we could pump,” Guth adds. “We treated the entire 2-mile area. I went back the next day and the JetPower II had restored flow capacity. The grease was gone. The manholes that were once surcharged and holding water were now working properly. The best part is that JetPower II contains chemical agents that surround the dissolved grease particles, so once the liquid grease is washed downstream, it doesn’t re-coagulate. I have been cleaning pipes and removing grease for a number of years and I have never seen anything like this.”

Livonia’s innovation and ability to address a potential problem — before it affected the local industries, businesses and residents — saved the city close to $100,000 worth of heavy cleaning and bypass pumping. In addition to direct costs, traditional cleaning and removal of grease would have also contributed to other expenses and issues, including traffic control, equipment and manpower. Instead, United Resource’s recommendation to use JetPower II and Livonia’s proactive and innovative thinking saved the city both time and money that can be utilized elsewhere.


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