Recently, HRSD Community Educator Sarah Crawford and I did a radio interview and the myth that really seems to dog our message came up yet again! Myth: Pouring grease down the drain is okay as long as you run hot water behind it. Grrr! In the first installment of Grease Beneath our Feet we talked about what happens when grease clogs the pipes on your own property; today we’ll talk about what happens when the backup occurs in your neighborhood main line.
Once the pipe meets at the clean out the “responsibility” shifts from the homeowner to the municipality, but everyone’s actions affect the health of the system. Running hot water behind liquid grease may keep it from cooling until it gets to the main line, a larger pipe system that usually runs down the middle of your street, but it’s not the neighborly thing to do. Main line blockages can cause sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). SSOs mean sewer water has pushed through a manhole and is flowing in the street, potentially down the storm drain to local waterways. This requires immediate response from stoppage crews who use vacuums, pressurized hoses, and sometimes cutters to clear the stoppage. The mess, health risks, and costs are bad enough, but communities with too many SSOs also risk fines from the Department of Environmental Quality.
Although the grease may seem out of sight out of mind from the surface, wastewater departments have CCTV cameras that they deploy after a stoppage to try and identify the cause. The tiny camera has wheels and can be lowered into the sewer and “driven” along the sewer pipe. The exact location of problems such as grease, roots, and pipe damage are recorded for cleaning, replacement and repair. Private sewer laterals, the source of grease in the main line, can also be identified. This is one candid camera you don’t want to be on!
Most municipalities are dealing with aging infrastructure and limited resources and yet have entire teams devoted to sewer stoppages, a mostly preventable problem. By canning the grease you are doing your part to help your community keep costs down and be a safe and clean place to live.
The video below is an example of grease in the sewer system through the lens of the CCTV camera. You can see the greasy sewer lateral on the left.