Looming in the world’s sewer system are contaminants of emerging concern. They’re not the endocrine disruptors, antibiotics or painkillers we’ve been reading about for the past several years (though those are indeed a challenge). These contaminants are bigger, and like the legendary alligators rumored to lurk in the New York City sewer system when I was a kid, they are growing steadily, day by day, to pose a catastrophic threat.
In a dramatic example of the problem, a 15-metric-ton “fatberg” was found in London, England last summer, choking the 70-by-40-centimeter (27.5-by-15.7-inch) sewer line down to just five percent of its capacity. The mass damaged 20 meters of sewer pipe. That means it was roughly the length and weight of a city bus.