Anne Pryor’s basement was knee-deep in sewage. Unfortunately, knowing it wasn’t her fault didn’t make it better or less expensive to fix.
As CBS New York reports, Pryor had just finished renovating her basement in Chatham, New Jersey when disaster struck. First the toilet, then the sink began overflowing with sewage.
Within an hour, it had started to fill the basement with a noxious mess. She told CBS:
“The smell in the house was nauseating. I was out in the backyard, dry heaving.”
It took the combined efforts of the local fire department, police, and public works department to figure out what had caused the flood of sewage in the Pryor home. In the end, they traced the problem back to the main sewer line, where they discovered a fatberg clogging the pipes.
Simply put, a fatberg is a congealed mass of grease and other non-degradable items that build up to a critical mass. Fatbergs can and have caused major problems in municipal sewer systems worldwide.
According to National Geographic, in 2016, U.K. workers discovered a Fatberg weighing about 140 tons and as big as 11 double-decker buses underneath London. New York City spends millions each year dealing with fatbergs, and even smaller cities are not immune.
Paul Giglio, a plumber who deals with fatbergs, explained how the neighborhood fatberg ended up causing the sewage flood in Pryor’s basement: “All that flow is coming down this line, hits this clog, now it has nowhere to go so it has to back up.”
Giglio added that he has pulled surprising things out of fatbergs while treating people’s sewage issues, including, “dental floss that looks like a mop.”
Pryor told CBS she didn’t even know what a fatberg was before the disaster in her basement. She took a photo of it once it was removed, noting that the clog was made up of, “tampons, adult incontinence, wipes, some fat, grease people pour down the sink.”
Pryor knows she wasn’t to blame for the items that caused the fatberg. It was just bad luck that her house was affected by it.
However, now she is left with a $50,000 bill for clean up and property damage. Her homeowner’s insurance only covered 15 percent of it, though the borough insurance is also offering to cover a small portion of the costs.
Plumbing experts recommend installing a check valve to help protect your home from sewage back-ups — along with double-checking whether your insurance covers this kind of damage.
In order to help prevent fatbergs from forming, the BBC advises people not to flush diapers, sanitary products, wipes, condoms, band-aids, or anything non-degradable down the toilet. In addition, oil, grease, and food waste should not be poured down the drain, but rather disposed of in the garbage can.