Fats, oils & grease leading to sanitary sewer overflows - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Fats, oils & grease leading to sanitary sewer overflows

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A chunk of hardened "FOG" sits in a Dubuque sanitary sewer lift station A chunk of hardened "FOG" sits in a Dubuque sanitary sewer lift station
DUBUQUE (KWWL) - Dubuque is stepping up its fight against FOG: fats, oils and grease.

The city has roughly 1,000 food establishments. Some of them have grease traps, used to catch the excess fats, oils and grease from cooking. Others don't.

When a restaurant dumps its FOG straight down the drain and into the sanitary sewer system, the materials harden and cause rock-like chunks that stick to the sides of pipes and damage lift stations.

Jonathan Brown is the manager of Dubuque's Water and Resource Recovery Center. He likens FOG build-up to plaque build-up in a person's arteries, leading to a heart attack.

On Tuesday, Brown visited one of the city's three main lift stations and pointed out the rock-like chunks of hardened, congealed FOG.

"(They) come from restaurants and homes and commercial areas," Brown said. "They get sort of like a hardening of the arteries: they collect on the outside of the pipes, and then eventually they break free, and they'll actually cause some problems with the flow."

In recent years, city officials say, one out of every four sanitary sewer overflows in Dubuque is caused by FOG from food establishments.

When a sanitary sewer overflow happens, the stuff people wash down their kitchen sinks and flush down their toilets comes bubbling up onto city streets, people's yards and even into streams and creeks.

Sanitary sewer overflows are not only harmful to people and the environment, but they're also costly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can fine the city for each instance.

The hardened chunks of FOG are costing taxpayers in other ways, too.

"Over the last several years, we spend anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 a year cleaning our major lift stations," Brown said, "mostly of grease balls that accumulate like this."

Dubuque is not alone in this. A 2004 report from the EPA shows nearly 50 percent of sanitary sewer and combined sewer overflows nationwide were caused by grease from restaurants, homes and industry.

On Monday night, members of the Dubuque city council voted unanimously to implement a stepped-up FOG program. All restaurants will have to come up with a plan by the end of this year to handle their grease. The food establishments will need to come up with some way of catching all their grease. 

The first violation will result in a warning. After that, however, the city will be able to fine offenders. The FOG Program will cost each of Dubuque's food establishments $100 per year to pay for the program's estimated $100,000-per-year cost.

People can do their part at home, too, city officials say, by scraping their plates into the garbage instead of washing food scraps down the sink. Bacon grease and other leftover cooking oils can go into a glass jar, which can go into the garbage once it's full.

Dubuque has more information on FOG here: http://www.cityofdubuque.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/401

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