Sinks and toilets are not disposal systems.
And problems caused by using them incorrectly could drain your savings account.
Every single day Brazos River Authority employees see fats, oils and grease not in delicious foods, but at plants where they operate and maintain lift stations and screenings devices, said Donald Malovets, BRA regional maintenance superintendent.
Fats, oils, and grease – unlovingly referred to as FOG – can come from meats, butters, lard, food scraps, mayonnaise, sour cream, sauces, salad dressings, dairy products, and cooking oil among other items. When those substances are put down the kitchen drain – or flushed down the toilet – they harden and cause sewer pipes to clog. The clog has been known to back up into a home, lawn, neighborhood or street.
The “out of sight, out of mind” mentality is a dangerous – and potentially costly – practice when it comes to putting the wrong items down the drain.
The less-than-appealing congestion can cause health issues and potentially make its way into a nearby stream or river affecting drinking water.
Malovets has seen the first-hand effects of homeowners improper disposal techniques.
FOG products have a tendency to adhere to pipelines, or, anything it encounters, creating a buildup or blockage issue, he said. Many collection systems operate on a gravity-flow system, which then are lifted at a pump station to get it to the wastewater treatment plant.
However, when FOG products flow into the lift station – even a small amount of grease from a wide variety of people – can come together and form a large grease ball, Malovets said.
As FOG clogs pipes, the bits of rotting food trapped in the FOG form hydrogen sulfide. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the hydrogen sulfide combines with water to form sulfuric acid, which eats the pipes.
“A lot of this stuff can float on top of the water along with trash and cause issues with the level controls along with the on & off sequencing of the pumping floats, which in the end causes overflows,” he said. “The other stuff that is in the wet well pumping station will have to go through your pumps, which can cause blockages and you will lose pumping efficiencies, which relate to higher operating and electrical costs and wear and tear on the equipment.”
Suddenly homeowners find themselves with a large bill.
Alleviate system problems by taking preventative and proactive measures. The BRA does this by increasing cleaning and inspection intervals, he said.
“Most of our stations are checked twice a week and monitored 24 hours a day and pumped and cleaned out once a month with a (vacuum excavation) truck, which is very labor intensive and costly to operate and schedule,” Malovets said.
There have been instances so bad, Malovets said, he’s seen a pumps trip out and burn up after only one month of use.
“When most cities could have anywhere from five to 50 lift stations, and each station has at least two pumps, and some have four and five, you can see where it can add up,” he said.
Restaurants and fast-food establishments yearly spend tens of thousands of dollars on plumbing emergencies to deal with grease blockages, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The EPA estimates there are more than 40,000 sanitary sewer overflows per year and 47 percent of those are believed to be due to FOG.
A few helpful practices for preventing a grease ball from finding its way into your home or your backyard where your children are playing:
- Pour used cooking oil in a sealable container and place it in the trash.
- Scrape food scraps into the trash and not the sink.
- Wipe pots, pans and dishes with dry paper towels before washing.
- Don’t use a garbage disposal or food grinder. Grinding food before rinsing it down the drain does not remove FOG. It just makes the pieces smaller. Even non-greasy food scraps can plug your home’s sewer lines.
- Don’t pour cooking oil, pan drippings, bacon grease, salad dressings, or sauces down the sink.
- Don’t use cloth towels to scrape plates as the grease will end up in the sewer through the washing machine.