OXFORD’S water provider called on customers not to pour fat down the sink as part of its “war on fatbergs.”
Warnings about what to not put down the drains came after Thames Water revealed that last year it unclogged 247 sewers in the city and a further 1,446 sewers in the rest of Oxfordshire.
Though the figures were down from 347 and 1,572 in 2012 respectively, the firm said it faces an ongoing battle to keep the county’s sewers flowing freely.
The company’s campaigns and communications executive, Craig Rance, said: “Unfortunately, blockages are so frequent that clearing them has become routine.
“But it is still part of our war on fatbergs to help prevent blockages from occurring and customers from flooding with sewage due to blockages.”
He added: “When fat congeals in sewers it doesn’t stay soft like you might think.
“A fat blockage can go hard like chalk. This means that we have to use powerful jets to break up the blockage, and using a tanker, suck the debris from the sewer further on.
“This is then taken to specialist landfill sites around the country.”
Oxford city centre experienced the problems clogged sewers can bring when a giant ball of fat – dubbed a fatberg – caused a sewer in Park End Street to collapse in April.
Work to clear the blockage brought traffic in Frideswide Square to a standstill.
Fatbergs form when cooking fat is poured down sinks and items like wet wipes are flushed down toilets, before hardening and blocking pipes.
The figures were released after Thames Water cleared sewers on the junction of Osler Road and St Andrew’s Road, in Headington, last month to prevent another fatberg. Oxford city councillor for Headington, Ruth Wilkinson said: “There's been a long history of sewage spills in this area – five in the last two years alone.
“It's very unpleasant but we demanded stronger action and I'm really pleased at the positive response we got from Thames Water.”
Three sections of sewers in Headington – totalling about 500 meters – were cleaned out by chain jetting.
This involved a water hose with chains attached to a propeller to cut through fat and grease.
Another city councillor for Headington, Altaf Khan, said: “Blocked sewers are quite a big problem. People will complain when they get blocked and Thames Water will come to clear it.
“But people need to not put as much greasy food and fat in sinks, and for that there needs to be more education and easy ways of disposing of that food.”
Thames Water spokesman Becky Trotman said: “After repeat blockages in the sewer we arranged for a high pressure jet to remove fat, oil and grease to prevent a fatberg forming.”
Thames Water said it monitors its sewers with CCTV to judge which ones are at risk of becoming blocked.
Known ‘hotspots’ in Oxford include areas where lots of sewers converge, including Frideswide Square, Botley Road and Cowley Road.
The firm spends about £12m unblocking sewers across its region each year, which it says is funded through customers’ bills.
Small blockages can be cleared in two hours, but larger operations can last for up to three weeks.
3 golden rules to avoid a blockage
- Don’t dispose of fat down the sink. Instead people should collect it in a tray or foil, wait for it to harden and then bin it.
- Wet wipes and baby wipes shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, but instead they should be binned too.
- Cotton wool buds and anything else that doesn’t break up should also be binned, rather than flushed down drains.
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