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Grease clogs a pain in the drain

Romeo Bicego, manager of sewers for the City of Richmond, shows a pipe in downtown Richmond almost completely clogged with grease. The city is urging homeowners to act responsibly when disposing of cooking grease, and to avoid pouring grease and oil down the drain, where it can cause pricey problems for the city’s sewer system.  - Martin van den Hemel photo
Romeo Bicego, manager of sewers for the City of Richmond, shows a pipe in downtown Richmond almost completely clogged with grease. The city is urging homeowners to act responsibly when disposing of cooking grease, and to avoid pouring grease and oil down the drain, where it can cause pricey problems for the city’s sewer system.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

Grease clogs are becoming an increasing pain in the city’s drains.

And a costly one at that.

In 2008, removing grease from the city’s slew of sewers cost more than $310,000.

But one particularly nasty clog that occurred recently in downtown Richmond cost $870,000 to fix. Now the city is hoping the continued public education—which launched in 2008—will go a long way toward avoiding repeats in the long term.

City sewer manager Romeo Bicego gave The Review a tour of a sewer repair site, near Lansdowne Road and Alderbridge Way, that became necessary after a nearly complete blockage of a sewer line.

Before the extent of the problem was discovered, the grease clog led to the road heaving and buckling when a pump was switched back on after it had been shut off due to an area sewage leak.

The clogged pipe was two feet in diameter, but its flow was reduced to four or five inches thanks to the grease which adhered to the sides of the cement pipe, like cholesterol can stick to a human heart’s arteries.

Asked what caused the clog, Bicego said he believes it’s the result of area businesses and condos improperly disposing of grease.

A couple of hundred metres worth of old-fashioned cement pipe needed to be removed, and replaced with high density polyethylene plastic pipes. During the work, a bypass needed to be installed, and the repair project resulted in the closure of Lansdowne Road, between Gilbert Road and Alderbridge Way.

When city crews dug out the cement pipes and lifted them from underground, they noted that the upper side of the pipes were coated in a thick substance, which had reduced the flow to a mere trickle.Bicego said that the new plastic pipes should make it a little more difficult for the grease to stick. Cement after all is porous, unlike plastic.

But at the same time, he’d like to see city residents stop the practice of improperly pouring out grease and oil down their drains. When grease cools, it becomes a solid, and that’s what appeared to coat the inside of the pipes pulled from under the road last week.

So what’s a homeowner to do with all that cooking grease?

City of Richmond spokesperson Kim Decker said cooking grease can be discarded with other compostables, as long as it’s done properly.

Grease can be lifted off pots and pans using paper towels, and those towels can then be discarded amongst regular yard clippings, chicken, pork and meat bones, and fruits and veggies. Or cooled grease can be placed in paper bags and tossed in amongst banana and orange peels and chicken bones with the compost.

Failing that, cooled cooking grease can be tossed out with the regular garbage.

It’s up to condo residents to comply with the suggestions; the alternative is the increasingly hefty plumbing repair bills paid for by local taxpayer dollars.

The consequences for business owners is the court system.

Businesses that discharge fats, oils and grease are required to install grease interceptors which trap and clean waste water of the substances.

Those who illegally discharge grease into the sewer system are subject to fines of between $100 and $1,000 per incident.

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