By Brandon Martin
The Henry County Public Service Authority (PSA) is reminding residents to dispose of fats, oils, and grease (FOG) properly instead of pouring them down the drain.
Those who refuse to properly dispose of those items violate the PSA’s Pretreatment Regulations, which limit and prohibit grease being discharged into the sewer system, according to Mike Ward, director of regulatory compliance and technical applications.
“These regulations are necessary because too much grease in a sewer treatment system can cause sewer blockages, back-ups, sewer overflows as well as inhibit proper operation of our sewer lift stations,” Ward said. “The grease combines with other solids that are in the sewer and develop into larger blockages in the lines and can coat and clog pumps, controls and float switches in lift stations.”
The damage caused by FOG comes at a cost to the PSA, which in turn affects all customers.
“All of this costs lots of money to fix and has the potential to, in part, cause our sewer rates to increase,” Ward said. “If we can eliminate grease issues in our sewer system, we can reduce our cost and be able to minimize any potential rate increases.”
Additionally, Ward said fines can be imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Virginia Department Environmental Quality.
“The PSA has the authority to assess notice of violations and civil penalties if the problem escalates; however, this is normally only used for commercial and industrial sewer users,” Ward said. “Residential users are more difficult to control and we rely on public education.”
Complying with the regulations is beneficial for all, according to Ward.
“It benefits the sewer customer and the PSA for grease to not be placed down the drain,” he said. “Not only does it cause issues for the PSA, but more times than not, it also causes issues for the resident in their sewer lines before it ever reaches the PSA. These blockages in residential sewer lines can be expensive to fix and can be avoided if grease and food can be kept out of the sewer all together.”
Steve Clary, superintendent of construction and maintenance, said a grease blockage for one customer impacts the entire system.
“Other people’s grease can create blockages that cause sewer main overflows,” he said. “These overflows are obviously unsanitary and can contaminate ground around the overflowing manhole, send undesirable pollutants into state waterways, and can be hazardous in a number of ways.”
Clary said that grease will combine with other items such as roots and domestic trash.
“The combination of these items can cause blockages that are often difficult to remove,” he said.
In addition to FOG, Clary also advised against flushing baby wipes.
“Baby wipes are of particular concern and are another item that should not be flushed, no matter if the label says ‘flushable’ or not,” he added.
“Probably most concerning is that grease in the customer’s sewer lateral or in PSA’s sewer main can create blockages that cause sewage back-ups into customer’s homes, and the impact of such can be extremely expensive to mitigate,” Clary said.
He added the issue of FOG blockages has decreased over recent years.
“Since we’ve begun our campaign to inform customers of the problems associated with fats, oils, and grease, I believe we have spent less time fighting grease in our sewer collection system,” he said. “The public at large has been cooperative and, at least from my perspective, we’ve seen fewer grease-related overflows in the last year or two.”
But he added the campaign is ongoing.
“Improvement is still needed,” he said. “We had an overflow just last week that was caused by an excessive amount of grease in one of our main lines.”
Clary added “we appreciate the efforts our customers have made regarding keeping fats, oils, and grease out of the sewage collection system and encourage them to continue working with us to protect Henry County’s vital sewage collection infrastructure.
“To those customers who have not made changes to their old habits of disposing fats, oils, and grease in the collection system, I encourage them to read the guidelines we’ve provided and help us protect the collection system and the community by following those guidelines,” he said.
Customers are advised to be mindful of items prone to producing the most FOG, such as meat fats, lard, shortening, butter, margarine, dairy products, food scraps, baked goods, sauces, cooking oil and salad dressings.
To help customers avoid blockages and other issues that may arise, the PSA released a few guidelines.
First, pour all cooled cooking fats, oils and grease that will harden into an old milk carton, can or container with a lid and dispose of it in the garbage. Items prone to hardening are bacon grease and meat drippings.
Greasy food scraps from pots, pans and dishes may be scraped into the garbage instead of the garbage disposal. The PSA warns that home garbage disposals do not remove grease from the plumbing system. Pots and pans then should be wiped down before washing and the cloth disposed of in the garbage.
The PSA also recommends that residents not use warm water and soap to wash grease down the drain. This habit does not prevent grease from building up in sewer pipes. Hot water will cool down in pipes, causing fats and grease to coagulate. Detergents that claim to dissolve grease may cause blockages to occur further down the pipeline. Strainers should be used in the sink to catch food scraps and other solids, officials added.