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Sewer workers know the dirt on what goes down the drain

Posted November 10, 2008

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— About 43 million gallons of wastewater run beneath the streets of Raleigh every day. When something blocks a sewer main, the results can be nasty and expensive.

Raleigh officials can get an up-close look at what's going on underground with a "sewer cam."

Robert Smith supervises camera crews that are responsible for keeping track of the city’s 2,300 miles of sewer lines – enough pipe to run from Raleigh to Las Vegas.

Smith’s crews send cameras into the sewer mains to look for anything that could stop the flow and cause an overflow. Fats, oils and grease, for example, can harden and block lines.

"It takes about a year for the camera crews to inspect all of the city's sewer lines. When they find a problem, they call out a cleaning truck to flush the line,” Smith said.

Raleigh has seen dozens of sewer overflows in the past year – more than 1 million gallons of dangerous, disgusting wastewater that workers had to clean up. Grease caused 40 percent of those overflows, according to city officials.

“Some are going to occur out there. We want to minimize those that do occur,” said Dale Crisp, Raleigh’s public utilities director.

The public can do a lot to help. For instance, pour household grease into a container and throw it in the trash, not down the drain.

“Just think about what you put down up in there. It only takes a second to pour grease in a bottle and dump it,” Smith said.

The city pays $50 to the first person who reports a sewer overflow.


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  • getrealpeople Nov 11, 2008

    The key is to make people aware. If waste treatment plants have to have bar screens to catch all the debris (rags, sheets, wood, rocks, dead animals, food, etc) and then haul that debris to the landfill then the system is not made for your trash. It's your streams that the overflows reach so it's up to you. How about thanking these workers for doing what they do. Would you do that job?

  • realowboy Nov 10, 2008

    “Just think about what you put down up in there. It only takes a second to pour grease in a bottle and dump it,” Smith said.

  • Pineview Style Nov 10, 2008

    "And maybe it is a good idea to ban garbage disposals..."

    People, please! If banning disposals was sucha good idea, then why was the city so quick to do a 180 on the ban?

  • aintbackingdwn Nov 10, 2008

    Maybe some paint and motor oil would help the goo flow a little easier.

  • egriffin8278 Nov 10, 2008

    Do all of you expect to be more knowledgeable than the sewer director? If he says grease comprises 40% of the blockages, then I would seriously assume it really does. Come on, do all of you think you're Cliff Claven and know more than the guy who runs the program?

    And maybe it is a good idea to ban garbage disposals... For all who whine about your taxes being too high, stopping some of these overflows would save money, and prevention starts in the home.

  • zanerx Nov 10, 2008

    WRAL, can you reveal what or who prompted this story? I suspect that this is the first step in the resurrection of the "ban all garbage disposals" campaign.

  • TeamHatteras Nov 10, 2008

    "hmmm and the commercial about Dawn dish washing detergent says "Dawn takes the grease out of the way"...... - mrtwinturbo



  • mrtwinturbo Nov 10, 2008

    hmmm and the commercial about Dawn dish washing detergent says "Dawn takes the grease out of the way"......

  • Brian Shrader Nov 10, 2008

    According to the City of Raleigh, 40 percent of sewer overflows are due to grease.

    Debris causes about a quarter of the overflows, structural damage accounts for 15 percent, roots cause 13 percent of spills, heavy rain leads to 5 percent and officials blame vandalism for about 2 percent of sewer overflows.

  • colliedave Nov 10, 2008

    I am president of an HOA here in Raleigh that was "served" by two lift stations that take waste from below street level and pump that waste into the City's sewer system.

    The City assumed ownership of one of the lift stations when they widened Skycrest Road. The HOA is still responsible for the other lift station.

    Grease has been a constant problem causing the HOA to spend considerable $$$$ in cleaning the stations. Despite constant pleas for the HOA and the City it continues to be a problem.

    I believe the creation of "Neusie" trivialised the problem and did not address what happends when grease clogs a pipe. Perhaps a better campaign would be "If grease clogs your arteries and causes a heart attack, think of what it does to our pipes?"