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Trimming the fat: Baltimore workers begin gnarly task of removing 'fatberg'

Baltimore’s Public Works Department is trying a different approach to remove the “fatberg” — a gigantic glob of congealed fat, wet wipes and other detritus — that’s been growing in the city’s sewer system.

After discovering the putrid mass near Penn Station last month, workers began to scrape off parts of it to be sent to the landfill on Quarantine Road.

A more aggressive course of action was rolled out Monday: A high pressure nozzle is blasting the fatberg, the pieces of which will then be sucked up through a giant vacuum.

The Department of Public Works estimates it will cost about $60,000 and up to a week to get rid of the glob, which was responsible for a sewer overflow that sent about 1.2 million gallons of sewage into the Jones Falls last month,

“We’re breaking through a wall of wipes and waste,” said department spokesman Kurt Kocher.

A closed circuit television provided a glimpse of the congealed lump as the water worked to break it apart. About 70 percent of a century-old pipe, which is 24 inches in diameter, is blocked.

“If we have to, we’ll use our cutter, but the nozzle is working so far,” said Logan Etzler, a television operator with TFE Resources, a contractor working on the job. “It’s almost like paper mache. It builds up over time and gets harder and harder.”

While it’s possible workers will finish the cleanup earlier, city officials say it may take up to a week to completely remove the fatberg.

“It may not be all that quick because once they get the gunk out of there, there might be spots where the pipes have to be replaced,” he said. “You never know what problems we could run into.”

Fatbergs have recently gained international notoriety. A similar glob was discovered in London, and is estimated to weigh about 140 tons. Baltimore officials don’t yet know how large this fatberg is, and said it is possible other, smaller lumps are forming around the city.

The fatberg’s presence emphasizes the need for city residents to be mindful of proper disposal of fats, oils and greases, officials said. People should avoid putting cooking grease down their sinks or flushing wet wipes in their toilets.

“We can’t treat our toilets like our trash cans,” said Pat Boyle, an administrator with the city’s pollution control program.

trichman@baltsun.com

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