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‘Fatbergs’ are clogging up cities’ pipes. Here’s what one Florida town is doing about it

Invasion of the Fatbergs

Not-For-Profit, Community-Owned Utility, JEA, spoofs flushing of baby wipes.
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Not-For-Profit, Community-Owned Utility, JEA, spoofs flushing of baby wipes.

With people flushing personal hygiene items down the toilet doing damage to sewer lines — most recently in Bradenton — the city of Jacksonville has come up with a creative way to warn residents about the danger they are causing.

The globs clogging and breaking sewer lines are nicknamed “fatbergs” a large accumulation of baby wipes and other personal hygiene items ,mixed with greases and cooking fats. The city of Jacksonville spends up to $800,000 annually to address the globs of mess.

In an effort to inform the public in Jacksonville and elsewhere, JEA Utilities, the largest community-owned electric and utility company in the United States, released a horror movie trailer spoof titled, “What goes down, might just come back up.”

A JEA press release states the video, “puts a quirky spin on a gross topic to inform customers of what should not be flushed down the drain.”

The video is meant to be funny while mocking a serious and costly subject. Its makers believe humor may be the best way to educate the public.

The ending shows a variety of things people have flushed into the city’s system, including “creepy doll heads” and garden gnomes.

Yes, garden gnomes.

Baby wipes, which are the primary culprit, are often advertised as being flushable, but that only means it will fit down the drain. The sewer systems are not designed for anything that is not completely biodegradable.

In September of 2017, a 130-ton fatberg was removed from under the city of London and just last month, also in the United Kingdom, a fatberg the size of six double-decker buses was removed. Just a few months ago, city of Detroit workers removed a fatberg said to be 100 feet long, 11 feet wide and 6 feet tall.

Bradenton officials have had their own unique problems with fatbergs.

An 18-inch force main waste water line erupted some time around midnight in Ballard Park, spilling an estimated 80,000 gallons of waste water through the storm water system and into Ware’s Creek.

Jim McLellan, Bradenton’s public works director, said hypodermic needles in the system are pulled out just as often as baby wipes, but there have been other interesting things that some people have flushed down the toilet. Those include a half-filled two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

In other instances, workers have found a plastic football, Barbie dolls, dentures, a variety of clothing and once — a fully intact dollar bill that the public works staff still has on display at the wastewater plant..

One-dollar bill.JPG
Provided

The Jacksonville video didn’t exactly make a splash with Bradenton officials, but if it helps then it can only be a good thing.

“We at the city are all about helping our residents understand how they can help us keep our pipes healthy,” said Jeannie Roberts, communications coordinator for the city of Bradenton. “While this video might not appeal to everyone, if it helps further education about some of the don’t’s of flushing, then it will have served a fine purpose.”

People in are consistently flushing the wrong things down the toilet, and that can cause big problems. Here's a helpful guide from the city of Tacoma, Wash., on what not to flush or pour down the drain.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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