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Preventing a 'fatberg': Carroll County officials add grinder pump to Sykesville pumping station plans

Preventing a 'fatberg': Carroll County officials add grinder pump to Sykesville pumping station plans
Flushed wipes can cling together with hardened fat and oil to create a mass of waste that can clog systems. The phenomenon — often referred to as the creation of a “fatberg” — occurred in Baltimore in 2017. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Installation of a grinder pump at the new Schoolhouse Road pumping station is expected to extend the pump’s life by pulverizing flushed baby wipes and preventing clogs, Carroll County officials say.

The county commissioners on June 27 approved the installation of a grinder pump and manhole, not to exceed $200,000, at the Schoolhouse Road pumping station, which is still being built.

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At its Sept. 27 meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved a $1,615,653 bid for Emmitsburg-based W.F. Delauter & Sons Inc. to take on the project. Construction began in December, and the pumping station is expected to be completed in Sykesville by the end of November, according to Bureau of Utilities Chief Andy Watcher.

Watcher said Wednesday that the grinder pump is necessary to grind up baby wipes and other materials that people flush, which can lead to clogs.

“It’s a huge ongoing problem,” Watcher said. “It can definitely be an expensive matter” for the county or homeowners, depending on where the blockage occurs.

Doug Brown, deputy director of public works, on Wednesday said that although the packaging on some baby wipes says “flushable,” that does not mean they should be flushed.

“They do not biodegrade,” Brown said.

Plus, the flushed wipes can cling together with hardened fat and oil to create a mass of waste that can clog systems. The phenomenon — often referred to as the creation of a “fatberg” — occurred in southwestern England this past January, as well as in Baltimore and London in 2017. The Baltimore fatberg caused about 1.2 million gallons of sewage to be discharged into the Jones Falls, city officials said at the time.

The January fatberg measured 210 feet long, whereas the one found in sewers beneath Whitechapel in east London two years ago was 820 feet and weighed an estimated 140 tons.

Installing the grinder before construction is complete is a “proactive” measure that will cost the county about half of what it would cost to install it when the pumping station is complete, according to Brown.

“It makes it much easier on our pumps,” Brown said.

The grinder will pulverize the baby wipes before they can clump together with other waste, he said.

Some of the county’s pumping stations have grinders already, and those that do not are being evaluated, according to Brown. A grinder pump was not part of the original design of the Schoolhouse Road station, according to a document tied to the June 27 agenda, and it is expected to reduce maintenance needs in the future.

The new pumping station was intended to “allow the County to abandon the existing and problematic 2,000 foot segment of gravity sewer located on the south side of Sykesville in a swampy area between the CSX railroad tracks and the South Branch of the Patapsco River,” according to minutes from the Sept. 27 meeting. “The existing gravity sewer is a vitrified clay pipe system not constructed to current standards, is located in a difficult-to-access area, and is subject to frequent backup and inflow / infiltration problems.”

Information from The Baltimore Sun contributed to this article.

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