The 'first scientific autopsy' of a fatberg

by Fiona Rae / 14 January, 2019
Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers, Tuesday.

Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers, Tuesday.

RelatedArticlesModule - Fatberg documentary
The fatberg is, if not quite a metaphor, certainly a symbol of our times. Since the first revolting 15-tonne lump of grease, kitchen waste and discarded wet wipes was discovered in drains under Kingston upon Thames in London in 2013, cities around the world have discovered and declared their own fatbergs.

The word was added to the online Oxford dictionary in 2015, and in 2017, the Museum of London hacked two pieces from a 130-tonne monster discovered under Whitechapel for display to the public – and even invited viewers to follow the fortunes of the disgusting chunks as they evolved. A public vote to name the monster was organised and the people of Britain, inevitably, christened it “Fatty McFatberg”. In a somewhat happy twist, much of Fatty’s fat was later converted into biofuel.

Then last year, a new fatberg under London’s South Bank was deemed even larger than Whitechapel’s. The fatberg is, effectively, a kind of 21st-century celebrity.

Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers (Prime, Tuesday, 8.30pm) follows the “first scientific autopsy” on five tonnes of the Whitechapel fatberg. It’s not mere spectacle: Thames Water enthusiastically supported the documentary in the hope that it might prompt behaviour change and persuade people to stop using its ancient sewage network as a waste-disposal system.

This article was first published in the January 12, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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