Polk County population growth causing more grease-related sewer blockages, officials say

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Grease, mayonnaise, rags, butter, sanitary wipes, shortening are just a few of the sickly things that flow through sewer pipes.

At a growing rate, Polk County pipes are clogging up.

Late this week, an 18-inch pipe on North Florida Avenue between Aida Street and Griffin Road became so clogged, the city of Lakeland had to bypass the pipe to allow residents to continue flushing their toilets.

“That’s an area where there’s a lot of, we call them heavy flows with sewage, so we did a bypass so we could have a workaround so people could still flush their toilets and do their business,” said Kevin Cook, city of Lakeland communications director.

Persistent rain posed a problem for crews trying to get a camera underground to make sure the pipe was unblocked.

Officials say clogs are caused by hot fats, oils and grease being poured directly down sinks.

The liquids harden when cooled and congeal, which blocks pipes and catches everything else flowing through sewer pipes.

“When people do that it, of course, causes clogs and sometimes thousands of dollars worth of damage. If things back up into your house, it’s nasty. It’s not clean water,” said Cook.

On a larger scale, the congealed fats can also block pump stations, which affects the county wastewater system.

Source – Polk County Utilities Dept.

“It’s definitely on the rise. With more food-service establishments, they tend to add to that more than individuals do. But in large subdivisions, it’s not uncommon to see some buildup in the pipe,” said Tamara Richardson, Polk County utilities director.

County policy requires food-related businesses to have grease traps on-site to prevent blockages.

The county regularly monitors and maintains pipes to make sure the pipes are flowing, Richardson said.

“When the grease gets clogged in the pipes and in the lift station, anything else that might be floating by tends to get stuck and matted. They’re very unpleasant situations,” she said.

Officials say sanitary wipes labeled “flushable” are not actually flushable and contribute to the sewer clogs.

As the holiday cooking season, residents can help by disposing of grease properly.

“Keep a can, like maybe a coffee can or a container, just keep storing them in there. You can put them in the freezer and then when the can’s full just throw the whole thing in the garbage can. That’s the easiest way,” said Richardson.

The North Florida Avenue pipe has now been placed on a 60-day preventative maintenance cycle to be cleaned more frequently due to today’s blockage.

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