Utilities Find Ways to Ward Off FOG

In light of the latest discovery of a massive fatberg in a Baltimore sewer, here are some of the ways utilities have found success defeating FOG

Utilities Find Ways to Ward Off FOG
A fatberg was recently discovered in Baltimore, Maryland, that was blocking about 85 percent of a 24-inch-diameter sewer main. (Photo by Baltimore Department of Public Works)

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The latest fatberg making headlines is in Baltimore, Maryland.

A nearly 1.2 million gallon dry-weather SSO occurred last month because of the massive FOG blockage in a midtown sewer main. According to Baltimore officials, upon closer inspection, it was discovered that about 85 percent of the 24-inch-diameter pipe was blocked.

It doesn’t quite match up to the fatberg that was recently found in a London sewer that clocked in at the size of 11 double-decker buses, one of the largest ever discovered. Still, no matter the size of a FOG sewer blockage, it’s yet another example of something that remains a chronic problem for many utilities.

“FOG has been a problem in this country since Colonel George A. Waring Jr. built the first separated sewer line in Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1880,” says Steve Tilson, president of Tilson & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in wastewater collections system operations and training. “Everyone’s trying to reach the goal of FOG-free sewer lines, but there is no single solution that will handle every FOG problem.” 

That’s why one of the best solutions for FOG continues to be source control. Here are how a few utilities have tackled the problem over the years.

Cease the Grease

The Cape Fear (North Carolina) Public Utility Authority maintains a public campaign, “Cease the Grease,” to educate its customers about the effect FOG has on sewer systems.

As part of that campaign, it has also tried to take steps that make it easier for customers to comply and keep grease in the trash rather than the kitchen drain. In the last few years the utility has given away thousands of “Cease the Grease” lids to people. The lids are reusable and designed to fit a variety of cans. They allow customers to simply pour their fats, oils or grease into a can and seal it until it cools and hardens. Once the can fills up with FOG, customers can simply throw it away and keep the lid for the next can.

Multi-faceted Community Outreach

Dallas Water Utilities also launched a “Cease the Grease” program in 2005, which as of this year merged with a related program, “Defend Your Drains.”

From classroom presentations to public appearances and public service ads featuring Earl the Plumber, a guy who loves to make money by cleaning out home sewer lines filled with FOG, the program has focused on heightening customers’ awareness of the problems that come from pouring oils, fats and grease down their drains.

The program also makes a point of informing people about the alternatives, and Dallas Water Utilities employees make public appearances at every community festival and neighborhood event they can reach, setting up tables and passing out literature and tools about the problem to help people. Popular freebies include zip-closure foil bags for collecting fats and grease from the kitchen, scrapers to help get the fats and grease out of pots and pans, sponges with a message about proper disposal and funnels to help individuals pour used cooking oil and grease into bottles or containers.

There are also collection stations around the city for disposal of FOG. The utility takes it to the digester at the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant where it adds to the production of methane that is used to generate supplemental power for the facility.

The program has helped considerably. In 2005, utility crews were called upon to clear out 112 FOG blockages in the system, but those types of calls have now been almost entirely eliminated, according to the utility.

Creating Partnerships

Work with offenders, don’t punish. That’s the approach the town of Daphne, Alabama, took in dealing with the restaurants and other commercial kitchens that were the primary reason behind the town’s longtime struggles with FOG-related SSOs. A bedroom community for Mobile, Daphne has only 11,000 households but more than 100 restaurants, mostly clumped together in a region dubbed “Hamburger Alley,” which is where most of the sewer blockages were occurring.

Starting in 2005, the town started to turn things around. Instead of using a heavy-handed, punitive approach to stop restaurants from improperly disposing of fats, oils and greases, Daphne hired a code enforcement officer to take a positive approach with business owners. The town didn’t require specific measures, like forcing the installation of grease traps. Rather, the utility appealed to each owner's interest to protect their restaurants from sewer spills and associated costs, and worked with them to find a solution that was cost-effective to implement, even if it was simply a move to paper plates or reducing the amount of fried food they produced.

Since starting the code enforcement outreach, Daphne has seen sewer spills and grease blockages cut in half.

What are the strategies your utility uses to combat FOG? Comment below.



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