By Joel Hall
On a cold Tuesday morning in Rex, "Grumpy," a $27,000, exploratory robot owned by the Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA), descended deep into the sewers beneath Creekside Drive. Despite tank treads, a slender body, and a remote-controlled camera system, Grumpy was soon turned around by an all too familiar problem -- holiday grease.
Around this time of the year, cold temperatures, combined with an increase in the consumption of fatty, fried foods, wreaks havoc on local sewer systems. The grease, which congeals along sewer lines, can greatly reduce household drainage, and in extreme cases, cause sewers to back up onto the streets.
In an effort to keep the sewers running smoothly, water authorities in Clayton and Henry are encouraging residents to properly dispose of their cooking grease.
Lisa Crews, CCTV (Clayton County Televising) crew leader for Clayton's water authority, said the average residential sewer pipe is only eight inches in diameter. She said the grease from holiday foods, such as ham and turkey, can, over time, stop them up completely.
"You get more greasy foods [during the holidays] and it solidifies more because of the cold weather," said Crews. "A lot of people tend to dump that in the drain and don't even think about it. Once the flow is interrupted, it can kind of create a snowball effect."
Crews said abundant amounts of grease in the sewer system can slow drainage and cause sewage to back up into private yards and even onto commercial property.
Mike Craig, manager of industrial monitoring and sewer maintenance for the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority, said the holiday season is a particularly vulnerable time for sewer systems. He encourages people to think twice before dumping their cooking grease down the garbage disposal.
"Flows typically pick up during the Christmas season," said Craig. "The correct way to get rid of grease is to empty it into a container you can seal, and then throw it away. You then take a paper towel and wipe the pan, and throw the paper towel in the trash.
"You will have some grease in the pan, but that is the best way I know of to get rid of grease," he said.
James Drake, environmental compliance foreman for the CCWA, said both Henry and Clayton have established FOG (Fats, Oils, and Grease) programs to educate children and adults about properly disposing of grease. He believes the educational efforts are leading to fewer problems for water authorities this season.
"We have bill stuffers, newsletters that go inside bills, and we have door hangers," said Drake. "We also have a group of people to teach kids not to put grease down the drain, as well as not to let their parents put grease down the drain.
"I think the word of not putting grease down the drain has been helping," he added. "The fewer people doing it, the better we are."