Mountains of putrid fat scraped off the sewer-walls beneath Leicester Square

For a thrilling, stomach-churning time, venture into the sewers of London, where everything that gets flushed ends up. All the stuff that you're not supposed to flush gets stuck, making subfecal condombergs and other odd formations. Weirdest of all is the fat -- tons of fat, enough to fill nine double-decker buses -- found under Leicester Square. Presumably, this comes from frytraps emptied into the toilet, and not from fat excreted by the London's straining colons.
Enough fat to fill nine double-decker buses is being removed from sewers under London's Leicester Square.

A team of "flushers" equipped with full breathing apparatus has been drafted in with shovels to dig out an estimated 1,000 tonnes of putrid fat.

And powerful jets are being used to break it down.

'Walls of fat' removed from London's sewers (Thanks, Mneptok!)


    1. Unicorn. Chaser. Stat.

      When I submitted this story I expected such a request, so now I get to ask …

      Would you like your putrid lard with a unicorn chaser, sir?

  1. I’d like to suggest an engineering solution to this problem, but that’s ridiculously old bricked sewer, and I’d be very hesitant in using a powerflusher, boilers, or even bacterial solutions out of fear of accidentally destroying the infrastructure. It’s probably easier to simply offer to buy the grease, and then use it to make biodiesel for a green campaign of sorts.

    I suppose they could line the sewers with interwoven spiraled pvc strips over the brick, and then powerflush it as often as ye please.

  2. I think I would actually prefer to starve to death than to take work cleaning up something like that.

    Though I suppose after a week of shovelling putrid fat I’d never be able to eat a greasy plate of anything ever again, and would probably become a healthy vegetarian or something.


    1. “subfecal condombergs”

      That’s onna those German balloonships that exploded, right?

      I think it’s the title of Cory’s upcoming steampunk novel involving dirigibles, yes.

  3. “subfecal condombergs”

    I think I just found the best grindcore band name EVAR.

    Seriously though, that’s the most absolutely disgusting term I have ever heard. And the image makes me what to hurl.

    1. #8,

      We should send Willy in because, as we know, there’s naught as fast as a greased Scotsman.

  4. “equipped with full breathing apparatus”

    Uhm, that young lad seems to have nothing over his mouth or nose. Maybe the job’s not as bad as initially thought and it smells of delicious fries down there. Yep fries, that’s what I’m going to tell myself…

  5. In college, during summers, I worked in a paint factory. As a janitor.

    Paint … spills. And then hardens. And you can’t use electrical tools or even metal tools to remove it (can’t risk a spark igniting solvent fumes).

    SCUBA gear. Full ‘clean’ suits. 140 degree Fahrenheit heat. No moving air.

    The described situation for the workers cleaning these sewers seems quite similar to the situations I experienced then — in fact, I think Dante Alighieri described those situations at some point in his writing career.

    My sympathies.

  6. Yes, I came here to ask why that man is without his breathing apparatus. Maybe “breathing apparatus” just means “lungs.”

    Also, that is a lot of lard.

  7. I’ve read two versions of this article, one where it says enough fat to fill 9 double decker buses, the other days fat the volume of 9 double decker buses. I wonder which was the original?

    It does make me wonder, has someone at Thames Water sat there shovelling fat from a sewer, into a double decker bus, just to try this out?

  8. Those mountains of fat are called FOG in the industry: fats, oils, grease. Lots of it comes from kitchen waste. Grease traps are used in restaurants, but don’t always work. And then there are the home kitchens. It goes down and cools and hardens. Then the other stuff in the sewers gets stuck.

  9. >> Enough fat to fill nine double-decker buses is being removed from sewers under London’s Leicester Square.

    >> A team of “flushers” equipped with full breathing apparatus has been drafted in with shovels to dig out an estimated 1,000 tonnes of putrid fat.

    >> And powerful jets are being used to break it down.

    The next Bond film has just been written.

    Any of the following titles will do: “Dr. Are-You-Going-To-Finish-That,” “On Her Majesty’s Secret Fat Bus,” “Luberaker,” “Butterball,” “The Man With the Golden Gunge,” “The Spy Who Loved Chips… Like a Lot,” “For Your Thighs Mostly,” “Octopudgy,” “A View to Angina,” “The World Is Not Enough With Gravy and Chili,” “Quantum of Cheddar.”

  10. But in all seriousness though, what about all of those cars we hear about that convert old cooking oil into fuel? They’d have to filter it in some way, but couldn’t 1,000 tons of cooking fat generate a lot of energy?

  11. EEEEWWWWWWW!!!!Gross!

    I came here to ask why the guy “equipped with full breathing apparatus” has his face right in the gunk!! his UNCOVERED face!?????

    But then everyone is already thinking it…

    Again, this story is just Gross…EEwww!

  12. There’s just something odd about that article and its pictures…

    – There seems to be too much light down there.
    – There’s no water??
    – The fact that the guy isn’t covering his face is REALLY odd. Not because he would most likely be throwing up every 4 minutes due to the smell, but because with every breath he would be inhaling about 30 different diseases.

    Just sayin’.

  13. I used to work in an office that bought and exported animal byproducts one of which was tallow. We had suppliers from slaughterhouses where fat was rendered down. We also bought grease from companies that collected it from restaurants etc. The tallow came in different grades. The lowest grades were green. We sold a lot of it to Nepal. One of the traders visited there and bought back soap made from the tallow we supplied. It was brown and smelled of tallow. No bleaching, no perfumes. It was just the bars of soap you could buy in a store. So strangely enough, after years of seeing samples of tallow the above photo doesn’t worry me too much!

  14. I worked as a lifeguard while I was in sixth form and part of the job involved pulling up the large shower mat at the end and hosing down the affected area. There was quite a lot of, what looked like, fat trapped by these awful, awful mats and I was foolish enough to once slip over in it. Not nice.

    Anyway, my point is, I wonder how much of that fat is caused by people taking showers.


  15. Eurgh, grim. I used to work in a cafe, at the rotisserie counter, and I thought the amount of fat produced from those was bad enough. Hope that’s a well-paid job, Man With a Spade.

  16. I worked for a sewer cleaning company that had a contract for a military base near Toronto Canada. We would have to clean the fat from the sewer lines outside their mess hall annually. Luckily we had a saw that ran on water pressure to cut the fat out of the pipe (also useful for tree roots.) We would just watch large chunks of it wash by down the sewer line from the top of the manhole. There would easily have been enough to fill a pickup truck.

    That was the second worst smell I’ve ever witnessed.


    1. You sound like someone who might know:

      Are there reasons why in-situ saponification by a potassium or sodium hydroxide solution isn’t used for dealing with lipid buildup in sewer lines?

      Is it too slow(I imagine it might be, particularly if flow is already impeded)?

      Are caustics an environmental no-no or excessively hard on the pipes?

      Is it just cheaper to use some mixture of water jets and shovels?

      1. In our case it was quite efficient to use the rotary saw. Cleaning the whole line would only take half an hour including setup. Using the combination of saw and water pressure rather than chemicals we could make sure that all the debris and sediment would be cleaned out in addition to the fat build up. It also insures that any build up on the the ceiling of the pipe is cleared. Thankfully we never had to use a shovel. The flow was sufficient to wash the removed fat down to the treatment station.

        Chemicals might make more sense is in older clay pipes that have broken. You wouldn’t want to remove the fat mechanically in case the saw (and hose) got stuck, or further compromise the pipe. Traditionally we would use water pressure alone in this situation, which takes longer.

  17. Gee, my mom taught me to NEVER pour fat (or coffee grounds) down the drain or they’d clog up the pipes. So we always had jar of congealing fat in the fridge that got thrown in the trash when it was full.

  18. Paging “Dr.” Gillian McKeith to make the sewer cry about its condition, examine the sewer’s ‘awful poo,’ and then force the sewer to eat raw broccoli until its skin has a healthy glow and its libido has returned!

  19. Lard
    You can see it
    In the clouds up in the sky

    Floats by in clusters
    In our water supply

    It’s all of us, man
    In our pores and in our hair

    What we conceal
    With these corny clothes we wear

    Lard is all
    Lard is divine
    Lard is control
    Lard whips and chains our soul

    Lard-We carry credit cards
    Lard-We live in fear of art

    Lard is the -OM
    Lard is revolution
    Lard is the tapeworm
    In the bottle of cheap tequila
    That comes alive at night
    And sneaks up
    And bites your nipple


    Nowadays, most of us need someone
    To run our personal life
    Someone to see that
    The plants are watered,
    Someone to make sure the place is clean,
    Someone to make sure dinner is waiting,
    Someone to call for theatre tickets,
    Someone to make up those cheap excuses

    What we need is…

    Lard-The answer
    Lard-The dancer
    Lard-The ointment
    Lard-The dream
    Absorb it
    Inflame it
    Respect it
    Molest it
    The country right now just wants to be
    Soothed, and told it doesn’t have to pay or
    Sacrifice or learn
    No one is over the hill
    When the mountain comes to Mohammed


    Lard-We love to eat
    Lard-We love to pray
    Lard-Mold over mind

    Every time I take a crap
    It’s a cosmic experience

    Religion and chemicals
    Are the key to the future

    Next time we have sex
    Just pretend I’m Ed Meese

    The weasels have it down, man
    It’s a whole new age


    Which would you prefer-
    A computer or a gun?

    The sharks out lived the dinosaurs, you know

    Pity the poor trainer
    In the stable when the race horse farts

    Poison oak really is
    The aphrodisiac of the Gods

    When people are asleep
    We must all become alarm clocks

    Hey, man
    Life is my college

    It’s Dental Floss of the mind
    Who will babysit the babysitters?

    Ever hear about that guy in New York whose dick
    Fell off in the bath after he shot it full of coke?

    It’s OK to run out of butter in Zambia
    Just smear squashed caterpillars on your toast

    Waiter, there’s a terrorist in my soup
    Which came first- Max Headroom or Gerald Ford?

    Are you a man or are you a mouse?
    If you love your fun- Die for it!

    And feel
    The Power of Lard
    The Power of Lard
    The Power of Lard
    The Power of Lard

    Avoid everything, etc…

    1. You had way too much time on your hands, didn’t you? :) That said, fun lyrics. I started to sing along this morning.

  20. One thing that adds to the problem strangely, is powder detergents from dishwashers which precipitate out of cold solution and harden

  21. HOW? tell me HOW can anyone do what that guy is doing without SOMETHING covering your face. BLARGH!!!!!

  22. Enough fat to fill nine double-decker buses is being removed from sewers under London’s Leicester Square.

    Remind me to avoid public transit next time I visit London.

  23. They should have just dumped some kind of fat digesting enzyme or acid, I love acid. On a separate note concerning acid, did anyone see that Tool concert? Amazing stuff.

  24. Is the double-decker bus a standard unit of volume?

    Hail size is compared to coins, sporting balls or fruit but never testicles.

    Length is given in football fields or trips to the moon.

  25. I just finished reading “London under London”, which is a fascinating book on all of the tunnels under London and those that built them. Apparently they can upgrade bricked sewers by inflating something a bit like a giant condom into the sewer and then permanently affixing it to the walls…

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