Why fats, oils, and grease are a sewer pipe’s worst nightmare

Have you ever cooked up some bacon or boiled some chicken only to pour the leftover grease down the drain?

It seems so easy—and, let’s face it, very tempting—to dump those fats, oils and grease, aka FOG, into the sink and be done with it. But the truth of the matter is that all that FOG can cause serious havoc on your sewage system.

We talked to Joe Pearce, director of operations for Aqua North Carolina, to learn how and why fats, oils, and grease can cause damage to the pipes that take wastewater from your home.

Hot grease? More like cold, hard sludge

Here’s the deal: When you pour hot grease into your sink, it’s typically at a very high temperature, meaning the FOG flows down the drain in liquid form. 

What you might not realize, though, is that as that FOG cools off, it transforms into a solid substance that quickly clogs up the pipes in your home and downstream sewage systems.

That thick, sludgy FOG will continue to stick to the inside of your pipes and accumulate. In time, it could even block your entire drain and cause a serious backup in your home.  In the sewer system, it can cause a sanitary sewage overflow.

Meanwhile, because FOG is high in organic strength (and because anaerobic bacteria find it to be quite delicious), it begins to generate hydrogen sulfide gas. When this gas combines with water, it creates a powerful sulfuric acid that can corrode many types of piping and damage concrete and ductile iron.

Not all heroes wear capes

You might be wondering how you can be a hero and save your pipes from a clog-filled nightmare. The answer is easy: Don’t pour grease down the drain! That’s it—really.

Instead, make a point to pour FOG into empty food cans, then chuck those bad boys into the garbage. Wiping down frying pans with a paper towel to soak up the FOG before tossing it in the trash is a good trick, too.

What does Aqua do to help?

According to Pearce, infrastructure improvements are often required to fix problems created by grease damage in our sewer systems. One option is to use a type of pipe that’s less susceptible to hydrogen sulfide corrosion: plastic (PVC) pipes.

However, for a variety of reasons, that type of pipe isn’t always the best option for some of our sites. For sites that require the use of ductile iron pipe, ceramic-coated ductile iron pipe is a good alternative.

Bring on the holiday meals, please!

It’s important to talk about FOG during the holiday season since this time of year tends to come with a spike in sewage issues. All that additional cooking leads to additional grease that can quickly clog your pipes and overflow your sewage system the morning after a big holiday get together!

If you’re on your kitchen’s cleanup crew this holiday season, do yourself (and your drain) a favor by making sure all that FOG meets its fate in the trash instead of the sink.

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Stay prepared, and stay safe

By Aqua Texas President (and resident of Houston) Bob Laughman

The devastation of Hurricane Harvey is a grim reminder that mid-August through mid-October comprises the peak hurricane season, and my heart goes out to everyone suffering in the aftermath of the storm, especially the loved ones of those who lost their lives. September marks National Preparedness Month, an opportunity for everyone to think about how to make sure you and your family are ready to weather a harsh storm or other emergency.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters say this hurricane season could be the most active in years. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said the “updated outlook underscores the need for everyone to know their true vulnerabilities to storms and storm surge. As we enter the height of hurricane season, it’s important for everyone to know who issues evacuation orders in their community, heed the warnings, update their insurance and have a preparedness plan.”

I couldn’t agree more: You have to have a plan. Aqua provides water and wastewater service to customers in coastal areas of Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia, and a major storm can cause heavy rain and flooding anywhere. That’s why we invest in training and equipment to maintain water service or restore service as quickly as possible for our customers during a major storm. This training involves much more than how to get the water back on; it emphasizes the safest ways for our employees to do their jobs as they deal with flooding, high winds, downed electrical lines and uprooted trees.

Although many of our systems remained powered and in full operation during Harvey, power outages can disrupt the routine operations of delivering clean, safe drinking water and our ability to treat and pump wastewater. Aqua has a network of mobile power generators that we can deploy where we need them to keep our customers’ tap water flowing when power is disrupted. We’ve also taken steps to ensure a reliable fuel supply for this equipment during periods of peak weather challenges. These generators aren’t just your average portable unit that sits in a truck bed. They’re some of the industry’s most modern, adaptable equipment with quick connection features that work in a variety of situations and locations.

During Harvey, I’ve seen some inspiring teamwork by the Aqua family. We’ve got folks for whom getting to work is literally impossible, and that’s when other employees stepped up to make sure they were covering for their teammates to ensure continued service. I thank them for their dedication.

Aqua is an active participant in TXWARN, the Texas Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network. This network’s database enables Aqua and other water utilities to find and share equipment and personnel to help each other continue to provide service during emergencies.

We also prepare by knowing in advance how we can contact our customers quickly during a water service emergency. Aqua customers everywhere should sign up for WaterSmart Alerts at AquaAmerica.com or 877.987.2782.  You can choose how you’d like us to contact you in an emergency: by phone, email or text message.

Throughout the summer, we’ve shared these tips about how you and your family can prepare when you think you might lose water service during and after a storm:

  • Save water for essential use in advance of a potential water outage and consider filling bathtubs, buckets, large pots and pitchers. Any water collected in a non-potable container (bathtubs, previously used buckets, etc.) should be boiled before consuming it.
  • When water service is restored after an outage, Aqua might issue a precautionary boil advisory until water samples can be tested to ensure that water quality has not been compromised. Bring water to a rolling boil, let it boil for one to two minutes to ensure any harmful bacteria is destroyed, then let it cool before using it. We’ll let you know when it’s okay to drink the water without boiling it first.

You can learn more about how to prepare for a hurricane and other emergencies at Ready.gov.

Aqua will continue to support our employees and the communities we serve here in Texas as we get through this crisis together and begin to rebuild. I hope you and your family are safe.

 

 

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