Viewers shocked as Lanes ‘flushers’ reveal secrets of the sewers

TV viewers across Britain got a close-up view of what happens when the wrong items and substances are flushed down sewers in Channel 4’s documentary Fatberg Autopsy – Secrets of the Sewers.

The documentary, broadcast on Tuesday 24 April, followed a team of Lanes Group plc wastewater engineers working for Thames Water as they tackled a fatberg in central London.

Five tonnes of the fatberg were then taken to a custom-built laboratory inside Thames Water’s historical sewage pumping station, Abbey Mills, in East London, to bet dissected by experts, including a mortician and scientists.

The programme – watched in horror and fascination by viewers, some trying to eat their dinner – revealed the work of operatives, known as flushers, who work for Lanes Utilities, Thames Water’s wastewater network service maintenance partner, and Thames Water’s trunk sewers team.

It revealed the wide range of substances and items that we humans wrongly dispose of down sinks and toilets. These included cooking oil, wet wipes, sanitary products, condoms, and hypodermic needles.

Andy Brierley, Lanes Group Technical Director, said: “Channel 4’s Fatberg Autopsy showed in graphic detail the extent of the challenges Thames Water and other water utilities face in the UK because many of us persist in disposing of items down drains that should be put in bins.

“This is costing tens of millions of pounds a year, adding to all our water bills, and disrupting our wastewater system, increasing the risk of local flooding.

“It is also dumping thousands of tonnes of plastic into the water system every year, some of which ends up polluting marine life in our rivers and oceans. It was made clear that we have it in our power to stop much of this damage by following Thames Water’s request for us to ‘Bin it – don’t block it’.”

Sophisticated chemical analysis of the fatberg revealed much about social habits of the people living above the sewer where it grew. The waste was found to contain traces of illegal drugs, including cocaine and horse tranquiliser ketamine, as well as two types of steroids for building muscle.

Micro-bacterial analysis also showed that the congealed mass of fats, sewage, and wipes harboured germs that were resistant to antibiotics, raising concerns that fatbergs were a breeding ground for dangerous superbugs.

The programme made clear the difficult and potentially dangerous job done by the Lanes flushers, and their colleagues across the UK, as they descend underground and wade through smelly, fat-soaked sewage to reach the fatberg, then hack it to pieces with shovels.

At one point in the programme, the sewer had to be evacuated as gas alarms sounded, warning of rising levels of toxic and potentially deadly sewer gases.

Viewers posting on social media voiced their admiration for the ‘flushers’. One tweeted: “The flushers working in the sewers are seriously unsung heroes. So much respect for what they do.”

Other viewers shared their support for Thames Water’s ‘Bin it – don’t block it’ campaign message. One tweeted: “Can’t believe the other half is eating dinner while watching this. But seriously, stop flushing anything other than toilet paper people.”

Andy Brierley said: “Our wastewater engineers did themselves proud on the programme. We’re pleased they are getting recognition for the skilled and dedicated work they do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“We’re working in partnership with Thames Water colleagues to keep our sewers flowing. Thanks to Fatberg Autopsy the public have seen they’ve a part to play in the partnership and can become Fatberg Fighters too.”

Lanes Group has launched a school education campaign, called Fatberg Fighters, which gives teachers a chance to use an interactive lesson plan, designed by a professional teacher, about fatbergs which ties in with learning about science and the environment.

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