Crews remove nearly 2.4 million pounds of grease from Portland sewer lines

Crews remove nearly 2.4 million pounds of grease from Portland sewer lines
Posted at 2:28 PM, Nov 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-16 14:28:34-05

PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) -- Crazy images out of England showing a monster sized mound of grease clogging city sewer lines are prompting FOX 12 to investigate what conditions are like under the city of Portland.

The 130 ton clog of congealed food, fats and wet wipes formed in a Victoria-era tunnel in London. It's called a fatberg and weighs nearly as much as a blue whale.

"We might have smaller acute blockages, but that sewer line in London is six or seven feet wide," said Ali Dirks with the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. "Portland has a few pipes that size, but I don't think we'd have an issue of that magnitude."

FOX 12 met up with city crews while they worked to clean out a grease build up in a southwest Portland residential sewer line. The spot is considered one of 30 problem areas in the city where high impactive grease gets into the line.

"This sewer line is cleaned every three months in order to prevent blockages and back-ups," said Dirks.

Dirks said the city sees its fair share of smaller issues from fats, oils and grease, commonly known as FOG, that are washed down Portland sewer lines. Some of those pipes date back to the 1800's.

City sewer scope videos obtained by FOX 12 show the rather disgusting scenarios unfolding in Portland's pipes. One video from lines below the Mall 205 area revealed a sewer line caked in grease.

"A lot of times people don't know what they're doing," said Dirks. "It's the sewer and people aren't enamored with what's going on in the sewer. They flush it and it goes away it's not their problem anymore, however it is a problem for us because it's a maintenance concern that we as a city have to pay for in order to prevent backups."

The City of Portland tells FOX 12 in fiscal year 2016, the cost of preventing FOG from clogging city pipes was $4.6 million dollars. Money the city recovers through additional fees placed on businesses that send a more intense mix of wastewater through its system.

The city's most recent FOG report reveals from January to August of this year, crews removed nearly 2.4 million pounds of fats oils or grease from city lines and that's based on its maintenance inspection program with restaurants alone.

"Currently there are 3,500 restaurants in Portland and 2,200 have grease interceptors. We have inspection staff that goes out with pumpers to provide that service," Dirks said.

Since launching that program five years ago, the city says it's made huge strides in reducing blockages and backups. But, crews say they still run into issues with residential communities. Especially, when it comes to the use of flushable wipes.

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"Flushable wipes are also a strong concern the city has, those are things that we wish people would not flush," said Dirks. "Even though containers say flushable wipes are OK, what we've found is that they also impact our sewer. Our pump station gets clogged up and we're not able to pump through the system."

The city can issue fines to people responsible for a clog if they discover the source. Blocks in the line that are avoidable if people are mindful of what they put down the drain.

"We really encourage people to dry wipe their dishes, use the garbage and compost," said Dirks. "Minimize the use of garbage grinders and disposals that encourage people to put stuff down the drain."