Grease clogging downtown Amherst sewer line sent sewage into buildings

  • The Amherst DPW headquarters building.

Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2022

AMHERST — A significant amount of cooking grease that clogged a downtown sewer line caused sewage to enter both a single-family home and two Amherst College dormitories in late August.

Although the town isn’t pinpointing blame for the blockage, the Aug. 26 incident, necessitating repairs to the line by the Department of Public Works, is prompting the town to issue an advisory cautioning both residents and business owners about improper disposal of fats, oils and grease, and the need for people to maintain and clean grease traps.

“Our best solution to this issue is proper education of the sewer users regarding what items should not be put down a drain, flushed down a toilet or dumped into their sinks,” Amy Rusiecki, the DPW assistant superintendent, wrote in an email.

Rusiecki said the affected sewer lines were not in need of replacement or repair.

“When grease cools within sewer lines, it solidifies, often clinging to the walls of the sewer lines,” Rusiecki wrote. “This will restrict the flow within a sewer line, further slowing down flow which in turn causes more grease to solidify.”

During the repairs, crews discovered what she described as several 12-inch-long plugs of solidified grease.

Rusiecki said that due to the nature of sewer systems, it is often not possible to identify a specific culprit when blockages and backups occur, though the buildings, including homes and businesses, that are part of the affected sewer line are known.

In addition to the infrastructure repairs and spill cleanup, both of which can lead to higher sewer fees, clogged lines also mean the possibility of sewage flow into nearby streams and rivers.

Restaurant owners who have grease traps are required to maintain them under food establishment licenses, while it is improper for residents to dispose of fats, oils and grease in sinks, drains or toilets.

An advisory from the town directs that no fats, oils or grease be put down sinks, even if those sinks have garbage disposals; that grease and food scraps be put into a can or trash; and that businesses with grease traps maintain them so grease doesn’t end up in the municipal system.