Sewer spills in DeKalb County for 2011 are already the highest since 2007, with two months left in the year.
As of Oct. 20 there have been 166 sewer spills reported in the county, six more than reported in 2007. The spills total 1.6 million gallons, and of those spills, about 70 percent were caused by fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in pipes.
“FOG is everywhere,” said Joe Basista, the county’s director of the watershed management department. “It’s everybody preparing their meats every day.”
The main concentration of FOG-related sewer spills is “immediately downstream of multifamily complexes,” Basista said.
To reduce these sewer spills Basista said the county is considering ways to encourage or require multifamily complexes to do something about their FOG problems. Possible ways to address the issue at the complexes include increase education, starting a grease collection service and installing a grease interceptor.
Basista said his department would not seek a mandatory, blanket grease requirement and would not necessarily seek legislation.
Because most multifamily complexes have private sewer systems on their properties, it is to their advantage that they keep grease out of their pipes, Basista said.
Since 2007, the county has had a FOG ordinance that requires all food service establishments to maintain grease interceptors to prevent fats from entering the sewer system.
The grease traps are routinely inspected by county FOG compliance inspectors who also check the restaurants’ permits and records for the grease interceptors to ensure regular maintenance and disposal.
The FOG ordinance has “effectively reduced spills,” Basista said. DeKalb had 256 sewer spills in 2006, the year before the ordinance was passed,
Basista said the county has received two unsolicited proposals from companies seeking to make money by helping the county keep FOG out of its pipes.
“FOG can be readily converted into biodiesel fuel,” Basista said. “It now has commodity value, [but] it’s hard to determine the market.”
One local company that is trying to reduce the FOG problem and make some cash is Curbside Recycling.
“We have a solution to the problem,” said Curbside Recycling co-owner Todd Williams.
Curbside Recycling, which has been in business since March 2010, is concentrating on rolling out its GRO Well (Grease Remediation Oil Well) program to small cities. GRO Well is a free residential FOG collection program performed on a municipal level. The company holds a registration event during which it distributes a collection container for the monthly used, cooking oil pickup.
Curbside rolled out the program in Clarkston in August. The city of Lithonia joined in September and Stone Mountain implemented it on Oct. 22.
“The city supports any effort that will redirect this troublesome FOG and keep it out of our sewers and landfills,” said Clarkston Mayor Emanuel Ransom in a statement.
To draw potential registrants, Curbside Recycling pays cash on the spot for metal-based recyclables.
“The trash-to-cash is a feature event of a free oil [collection] registration,” Curbside Recycling co-owner Richard Younge said. “That brings the people out.”
Younge said the county’s FOG program may keep some grease out of pipes, but it does not address the full environmental impact of FOGs.
“What the county is telling people is put grease into a container and throw it in the trash,” Younge said. But those containers are dumped into garbage trucks where the grease containers are compacted and squeezed on the streets.
Curbside Recycling’s goal is to create a market for biodiesel use in school buses and fleets.
“We can significantly reduce the cost of fuel,” Williams said.
Pauline Daily, a member of the a residents advisory group monitoring the county’s upcoming $1.345 billion in watershed capital improvement projects, said she is considering getting her Hidden Hills subdivision in the oil recycling program. Hidden Hills recently had its own sewer spill.
Daily said that before studying the FOG problem for the advisory group she would pour “hot grease down the garbage disposal with the hot water running and simultaneously squirting Dawn [dish detergent] to break up the grease.”