Museum displays ‘fatberg’ from sewer
London’s newest museum attraction is greasy, smelly – and a glimpse at the hidden underside of urban life.
The Museum of London on Thursday unveiled its latest display, a chunk of a 143-ton fatberg that was blasted out of a city sewer last year.
It took sewage workers with jet hoses nine weeks to dislodge the 820-foot-long mass of oil, fat, diapers and baby wipes from beneath Whitechapel in the city’s East End.
The museum has lovingly preserved a chunk the size of a shoe-box, whose mottled consistency a curator likens to Parmesan crossed with moon rock. Close examination reveals the presence of tiny flies. Three nested transparent boxes protect visitors from potentially deadly bacteria and from the fatberg’s noxious smell.
Curator Vyki Sparkes says the lump started out smelling like a used diaper “that maybe you’d forgotten about and found a few weeks later.” The pong has now mellowed to “damp Victorian basement.”
“It’s disgusting and fascinating,” she said of the fatberg. “And that’s what’s been great to work with – it has this impact on people.”
The museum is so confident of the item’s ick-appeal that the exhibition – titled Fatberg! with an exclamation point – comes with a selection of merchandise including T-shirts and fatberg fudge.
Sparkes considers the fatberg a natural for the museum, which charts the city’s ancient and modern history. The word itself, a hybrid of “fat” and “iceberg,” is one of London’s gifts to the world: It was coined by the city’s sewer workers and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015.
Fatbergs are a growing menace for cities around the world, but they remain mysterious. “Fatbergs aren’t really that well understood – how they form, how quickly they form and what they are,” said Sparkes.
Most of the Whitechapel fatberg was delivered to Argent Energy, a company that turns waste into biofuel.
The fatberg is on display from until July 1.