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23 August 2013, 06:37 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
Southern Water's worried it may soon have to deal with 'fatbergs', like the one which blocked a London sewer last month.
The company says over the past 12 months, it dealt with 9,250 sewer blockages caused by things that should not be flushed, such as wet wipes and cotton buds.
The figure also includes problems caused by solidified fat, oil and grease and amounts to more than a third of all sewer blockages (between 1 August 1 2012 and 31 July 2013).
Each year in the UK, billions of items are flushed down the toilet that should be put in the bin, and thousands of litres of fat, oil and grease are poured down kitchen sinks.
These can lead to blockages in drains and sewers, putting homes at risk of sewer flooding as when wastewater backs up, it can spill out of toilets, sinks or manholes.
It’s not only Southern Water’s pipes that are at risk – blockages on private pipes are the responsibility of the homeowner to fix and can be costly.
Southern Water Wastewater Manager Simon Parker said:
“Fat, oil and grease that is poured down sinks solidifies in the sewer and causes blockages. Along with wet wipes, sanitary products and other non-biodegradable items flushed down toilets, fat is one of the biggest culprits in sewer blockages.
“These blockages can cause toilets, sinks and baths to overflow inside homes, costing families hundreds of pounds to clear and if sewers flood outside, they can pollute the environment.
“That’s why we ask customers to only flush the three Ps – pee, poo and paper. Everything else should be put in the bin.
Sewer engineer Stuart Slark is one of a team that goes down into some of the region’s larger sewers to clear build-ups of fat, wipes and other things that people flush away. He said:
“It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. We go down the bigger sewers with shovels to scrape solidified fat off the sides and break up the large blockages so they can be sucked away by a tanker.
“Often the fat settles on top of the wastewater in the sewer and floats down like a raft. These rafts can be up to two feet thick and about six feet long. We have to break them up so the tanker can get them out. It’s pretty grim work.”
Customers can help prevent blockages by not pouring fat and cooking oils, including vegetable and nut oils, down kitchen sinks.
Small amounts of oil can be disposed of by wiping pans with paper towels which can then be thrown in the bin.
Oil can also be transferred into containers, once they have cooled, before being thrown away or taken to a local tip.
For more advice, click here.