Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Fatbergs have been in the news this week following the discovery of an immense (130 tonne) example that is blocking  a large stretch of East London’s sewer network. The Museum of London, which as its name suggests is dedicated to recording the city’s history, revealed that it hopes to acquire part of the monster and put it on display at its new premises, due to open in Smithfield in 2021.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the term, a fatberg is a congealed mass of fat and waste that builds up when people dispose of items such as cooking oil, wet wipes and nappies down the drains instead of putting them in the rubbish. Despite repeated appeals not to do so, we continue to chuck vast quantities of these materials into sinks and toilets, and Victorian-era sewers in London and other cities are struggling to cope.

Various suggestions have been made as to remedies for the problem, from better public education to using the fatty masses to create biodiesel, but in the meantime the Museum of London’s lead curator explained his interest in acquiring part of the latest berg, saying that it ‘speaks to the breakdown in London’s infrastructure as we transition between periods’. If the museum’s skilled team succeed in solving the problem of preserving the specimen without endangering or grossing out the public, you can expect to see this monument to our environmental carelessness on display at the Museum’s new site near London’s historic meat market, itself a byword for filth and smells in the days when the capital’s sewers were being built.

The term fatberg was coined early this century as a combination of the words fat and iceberg, probably because of its distant resemblance to a huge and beautiful lump of ice.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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