Fatbergs are mostly made up of, you guessed it, fat. But the waste materials mixed in make each mass unique, and tell a lot about the people abusing a city's sewers. So say scientists from England's University of Exeter, who analyzed samples taken from a 210-foot-long fatberg discovered in the seaside town of Sidmouth during a routine inspection last December. Unlike the 880-foot-long fatberg eliminated from a London sewer in 2017, this one came from a city with just 13,000 permanent residents. "We wanted to learn as much as we could about it, how it was created and what it was made of," says Andrew Roantree, director of wastewater at South West Water. That prompted a fatberg autopsy, which was fascinating but "awful to do," synthetic biology professor John Love tells the New York Times. "The smell was honking."
The Guardian describes an aroma "like a heady combination of rotting meat and an unclean toilet," and it's no wonder: Once the utility paid $123,000 to eliminate the blockage—a process that took eight weeks—scientists analyzed four 22-pound samples, finding numerous incontinence pads and a set of false teeth. "Sidmouth ... is largely populated by retired people," Love explains. Otherwise, the nontoxic fatberg "was simply a lump of fat aggregated with wet wipes, sanitary [pads], and other household products that really should be put in the [trash]." A new fatberg has started to form in recent weeks, but it will soon be cleared away, per the Times. Meanwhile, Roantree says the utility will work to "educate, inform, and change the behaviors of people in terms of what they are putting down the toilet and sink." (London also battled a "concreteberg".)