Viridian Note 00257: Sewer Fat Crisis

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: sewer grease, fat infarctions, American sewer fat crisis, grease mafia, Qlear, Petroplus, biomass energy, Viridian Embrace Decay principle

Attention Conservation Notice: It's about huge amounts of lard clogging sewers. Wonderfully disgusting yet also very American. Makes one proud to be Dutch, if one were Dutch.

Links: Viridian Summer 2001 issue now on display wherever fine countercultural products are sold. Qlear Energy and Environment in Holland. The Water Infrastructure Network, "a nonpartisan coalition of local elected officials, drinking water and wastewater service providers, environmental groups, labor unions, and construction and engineering professionals." The National Association of Sewer Service Companies. Their $75 "Manual of Practice" includes tips and techniques for CCTV inspection, smoke testing, dyewater testing, infrared themography, flow monitoring, radar and sonics. Providing a valuable public service!

Source: Wall Street Journal, June 4, 02001

By Barry Newman, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

     "NEW YORK == Why wait until the next story about coagulated fat in sewers comes along when you can read this one now? (...) (((You've got to admire the way veteran reporter Newman plunges into this plum assignment!)))

     "(...) George Markovics shouts above the oceanic roar of his jet-flusher truck. He is standing over a manhole in south Brooklyn, looking down. At the bottom of the hole, where raw sewage should be bubbling along, a smear of sickly gray goop is blocking the pipe. (...)

     "Maybe Mr. Markovics, who is 40 years old, can qualify as a poster boy for the national sewer-fat crisis. America's sewers are in a bad way. Three quarters are so bunged up that they work at half capacity, causing 40,000 illegal spews a year into open water. Local governments already spend $25 billion a year to keep the sewers running. The Water Infrastructure Network, a coalition of the wastewater-aware, warns that it will cost an additional $20 billion a year for the next 20 years to keep them from falling apart. (((Since this is the Wall Street Journal, they quote the WIN, who are industry boosters.)))

     "Roots, corrosion, cave-ins, bottles, broken stick- ball bats, rusty car parts == anything will divert sewage on its way to the treatment plant. But the blockages now are almost all wrapped up in fat. The perpetrator is fried food.

     "Fueled by the fast-food frenzy and an influx of immigrant cooks, America's appetite for eating out has bloated the national output of a viscous goop known as restaurant grease == to three billion pounds a year. Where does used grease go? Traditionally, into the cauldrons of the rendering industry, which processes animal castoffs into useful products. But for reasons ranging from Malaysia's palm-oil boom to Mayor Rudolf Giuliani's crackdown on New York's garbage Mafia, more goop than ever is ending up in the sewer. (...)

     "Don Montelli stands over a manhole on another Brooklyn corner == a 'notorious grease spot,' he says, in front of a Chinese take-out. Mr. Montelli, a high-tech sewer worker, holds a video screen attached by wire to a robot camera down below. (((Welcome to 21st century America.)))

     "With colonoscopic clarity, the camera shows a pipe with a drippy coating of fat. Fat won't pollute; it won't corrode or explode. It accretes. Sewer rats love sewer fat; high protein builds their sex drive. Solids stick in fat. Slowly, pipes occlude. (((A round of applause for Mr Newman; this is just plain fine writing, ladies and gentlemen.)))

     "Fat infarctions have struck of late in Honolulu, Columbus, Ohio, and Lake Placid, N.Y. A grease clot in Cobb County, Ga., recently set off a 600,000 gallon sewage surge into the Chattahoochee River. In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Los Angeles for allowing 2,000 overflows in the past five years; an EPA audit blamed 41% of them on fat. (...)

     "This is where the Mafia comes in. (((I presume you were expecting the Mafia.)))

     "A grease disposal trick, restaurant people say, is to freeze it in plastic and chuck it into the garbage. Problem one: In summer, it melts all over the sidewalk.

     "Problem two: In 1996, Mayor Giuliani broke the cartels that fixed prices on garbage pickups. 'One of the things they did,' the mayor told the press at the time, 'was to beat people up, bust their kneecaps and kill them.' The city sent some perps to prison, asked national haulers to take over many routes and clapped a lid on prices.

     "That took care of the Mafia, not the grease. For pickups, haulers charge restaurants by the cubic yard; for dumping, landfills charge haulers by the ton. That means the profitable garbage is light and fluffy. Grease is heavy and dense == and putrid and sloppy. With prices capped and profits slim, haulers are raising a stink. They won't take the grease. (...)

     "So? Where does it go?

     "'This is really reprehensible,' says John Lagomarsino. 'They dump it in the sewer at 1 o'clock in the morning."

     (((That's a dire story, ladies and gentlemen, but here on Viridian List we don't stop at mere lamentation. Because one month later, on the cleaner side of the grease-soiled Atlantic...)))

Source: Reuters, July 11, 2001

"Moveable power plants to turn fat into electricity

     "AMSTERDAM == Roaming power plants the size of large trucks may soon be drawing up at rubbish dumps and market gardens to turn fat and muck into energy, if Dutch independent oil group Petroplus' plans succeed.

     "Petroplus said yesterday its majority-owned unit Qlear had developed a small and moveable biomass power unit which will be able to process materials such as frying fat. The systems have the size of a transport container and can produce about 6,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per year, sufficient to supply electricity to more than 2,000 households.

     "Qlear's Chief Executive Paul West told Reuters that his firm would target energy companies, food firms, destruction companies and market gardeners in particular to sell the new product. (((Where's yours, MacDonald's? Overnight, you could become the next Enron!)))

     "The systems can be installed within a week and can process more than 1,500 tonnes of frying fat, animal fat or vegetable oil per year. They also produce hot water.

     "The units will be sold at prices ranging from 500,000 to 800,000 euros ($427,700-$684,300). West said a buyer could recover his investment and the fuel costs within three years, also because of Dutch tax benefits on using bio-energy. (...) Petroplus said the 'Qlear Processing System' could make a contribution to Dutch and international efforts to cut greenhouse effects and diminish the amounts of waste materials.

     "Qlear, which is 52 percent owned by Petroplus but operates at arm's length, specialises in durable energy and water purification projects. Its Vapour Processing System, which converts polluting vapours into electricity, is already used by clients in the Benelux countries, Britain and Germany."

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