The Fatberg

Freed from the sewer and put on display

This 10-pound sample of Fatberg came to us through a partnership between Wayne State University, Macomb County Public Works, and the National Science Foundation. We worked closely with Wayne State researchers and Macomb County civil engineers to bring this sample of Fatberg to the public.

 




The Fatberg at the Michigan Science Center

Fatberg

noun [fat-berg]: a congealed mass in a sewer system formed by the combination of flushed non-biodegradable solid matter, such as wet wipes, and congealed grease or cooking fat.

The Fatberg at the Michigan Science Center The Fatberg at the Michigan Science Center The Fatberg at the Michigan Science Center The Fatberg at the Michigan Science Center

Macomb County Excavation, WSU Research and an Exhibit

In 2018 crews from Macomb County Public Works encountered the fatberg during a routine survey. After trying to use pressurized water to break it up, they eventually had to resort to using hacksaws, axes, and shovels to manually carve the Fatberg up into manageable chunks. The freed chunks of Fatberg were then vacuumed up, little by little, and relocated to a landfill. Saved from this, one sample was calved for Wayne State researchers, and ultimately, made its way to the Science Center.

It was during the labor-intensive extraction that Wayne State civil and environmental engineer Carol Miller and environmental toxicologist Tracie Baker received National Science Foundation funding to take a closer look at the Macomb County Fatberg. The team at WSU sought to learn exactly what the mess was made of, and how it might affect the ecosystem, both inside and outside of the sewer.

After all the prodding, x-rays, and centrifugal experiments were completed, the strong stomached researchers sealed up the remaining sample and sent it to us at the Science Center. Once in our hands, we carefully relocated the sample to its final place of rest, a small section of Schedule pipe, for all to see and learn from. The exhibit within their Civil Infrastructure and Engineering Gallery invites the public to see with their own eyes the product of flushing so-called “flushable” wet-wipes and other non-flushable products down the toilet.

The Exhibit

Displayed for all to see, is a 10-pound sample of the Fatberg which had been extracted from a sewer in Clinton Township, a suburban Michigan community about 25 miles northeast of Detroit in Macomb County in 2018. This Fatberg was located immediately north of the Clintondale Pump Stations, at the southern end of Union Lake Road.

The two-school-bus-long Fatberg removed by Macomb County was over 100 feet long, 11 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and had a dry weight of 19 tons.

The exhibit is a simple monolithic display consisting of a cylindrical aquarium containing the sample, a flat-lay detailing more specific items found within the Fatberg, and a display for rotating content exploring Fatbergs as they exist around the world. The cylindrical aquarium housing is a section of Schedule 40 pipe, to reference the sewer from whence it came. Next to the cylindrical aquarium is a flat-lay within a crosscut of the very same 16” Schedule 40 pipe, where visitors can see in more detail the debris and waste that clogs our sewer drainage system.

How We Can Help?

Well, it's pretty simple, we all can reduce the risk of Fatbergs by ensuring only proper items are flushed down the toilet and drains. The research revealed what might have seemed intuitive to many, that “flushable” wipes don't break down like toilet paper and they should always be disposed of in the trash, despite any packaging that claims the contrary.

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Making of:

With a limited shop we scraped together what little we had access to and made due.

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