A Manmade Fatberg Is Floating Off the Coast of Amsterdam

A chunk of the Whitechapel fatberg on display at the Museum of London.
A chunk of the Whitechapel fatberg on display at the Museum of London.

Fatbergs—typically masses made from congealed grease, diapers, wet wipes, and other trash—have a tendency to form where they’re not wanted, but a new one floating in the sea just off Amsterdam was put there deliberately. As Gizmodo reports, designers Mike Thompson and Arne Hendriks constructed the buoyant blob to be a statement-making piece of experimental art.

Their Fatberg (capital F) started in 2014 as a single drop of fat in a glass of water. In the time since then, Thompson and Hendriks have grown it into a 2205-pound behemoth by gradually adding melted-down vegetable and animal fats to the mound. Unlike fatbergs that appear in the wild (a.k.a. city sewers), this monstrosity is pure fat. The two masterminds hope to eventually incorporate human fat obtained from a liposuction procedure.

The project is less a statement about the litter and pollution that leads to fatbergs clogging up our sewers as it is about the meaning of the fat itself. “Basically we’re doing this because fat is a very interesting material—it’s probably the most iconic material of time,” Hendriks told Gizmodo. “It’s organic, but it speaks about energy. It speaks about health. It speaks about over-consumption. It speaks about beauty.”

The two men plan to continue growing their fat island with the goal of getting it big enough to stand on and towing it to the North Pole. But they have a long way to go before they break the record for biggest fatberg—that title belongs to the Whitechapel fatberg, which weighed a whopping 143 tons when it was pulled from a London sewer in 2017.

Floating fatberg.
Mike Thompson, Arne Hendriks

Adding fat to a floating fatberg.
Mike Thompson, Arne Hendriks

[h/t Gizmodo]

New York City is Fighting Fatbergs in Sewers with a New PSA Campaign

Chris Hondros, Getty Images
Chris Hondros, Getty Images

There are certain consequences to living in an age of convenience. Plastic straws are filling up landfills, prompting widespread bans and restrictions on their distribution. Now, New York City is turning its attention to an even more disgusting scourge: fatbergs.

A fatberg is a repulsive coagulation of things you shouldn't flush down the toilet, like bacon grease and so-called “flushable” sanitary wipes. They can be immense: One London fatberg grew to be 143 tons, becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

These mobile chunks of waste travel in sewers, creating significant blockages. The fatbergs can force untreated water into clean water sources and cause backups in residential plumbing.

With New York City currently spending $20 million annually on clearing these blockages, officials have decided to mount a public campaign cautioning residents against some of their bad plumbing habits. They have a new website admonishing people to abide by the “Four Ps” of flushing—poop, pee, puke and (toilet) paper are fine, while grease and wet wipes are not. Those should be thrown in the garbage.

While most people don’t have a problem directing their vomit and feces into a toilet without written instruction, there’s still a widely held belief that wet wipes are safe to flush. This is likely due to companies labeling them “flushable” on packaging, though the city’s anti-fatberg site insists that “flushable” simply means they won’t clog a toilet. Once it’s in the sewer system and mingles with grease, the wipes begin to contribute to a public health problem. The city removed almost 53,000 tons of debris from sewage treatment screens in 2017. Most of it consisted of the wipes.

With 8.6 million people in New York creating a substantial amount of waste, it’s easy to see why city management feels an urge to curb the problem. But no matter where you live, it’s a good idea to relegate flushes to bodily fluids and toilet paper only. Cooking crease should be allowed to cool, then put in a container and thrown away.

[h/t Slate]

11 Squeaky-Clean Facts About Spit

iStock/fotolinchen
iStock/fotolinchen

Though most people find the thought of saliva rather disgusting, spit plays a vital role in our lives. It allows us to comfortably chew, swallow, and digest. It fights off bacteria in our mouths and elsewhere, and leads the mouth’s bold fight against cavities. Here are 11 facts that might have you reconsidering that unsung hero of bodily fluids: spit.

1. Spit is mostly water.

Saliva consists of about 99 percent water. The other 1 percent is made up of electrolytes and organic substances, including digestive enzymes and small quantities of uric acid, cholesterol, and mucins (the proteins that form mucus).

2. There's a medical standard for how much spit you should have.

Healthy individuals accumulate between 2 and 6 cups of spit a day. That’s without stimulation from activities like eating or chewing gum, which open the spit floodgates [PDF].

3. Saliva production has a circadian rhythm.

Your body typically produces the most saliva in the late afternoon, and the least at night. Salivation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (much like your heartbeat), meaning it’s an unconscious process.

4. There are five different kinds of spit.

Salivation has five distinct phases, most triggered by the passage of food through the body. Not all of them are a good thing. The first type of salivation is cephalic, the kind that occurs when you see or smell something delicious. The buccal phase is the body’s reflexive response to the actual presence of food in the mouth (which aids in swallowing). The esophageal involves the stimulation of the salivary glands as food moves through the esophagus. The gastric phase happens when something irritates your stomach—like when you’re just about to puke. The intestinal phase is triggered by a food that doesn’t agree with you passing through the upper intestine.

5. Spit can battle bacteria.

There’s a reason the phrase “lick your wounds” came about. Spit is full of infection-battling white blood cells. And, according to a 2015 study in the journal Blood, neutrophils—a type of white blood cell—are more effective at killing bacteria if they come from saliva than from anywhere else in the body. So adding saliva to a wound gives the body a powerful backup as it fights off infection.

6. Spit keeps you from getting cavities.

The calcium, fluoride, and phosphate in saliva strengthen your teeth. Spit also fights cavity-causing bacteria, washes away bits of food, and neutralizes plaque acids, reducing tooth decay and cavities. That’s why chewing gum gets dentists’ stamp of approval—chewing increases the flow of saliva, thus protecting your oral health.

7. You need spit if you want to taste anything.

Saliva acts like a solvent for tastes, ferrying dissolved deliciousness to the sites of taste receptors. It also keeps those receptors healthy by preventing them from drying out and protecting them from bacterial infection. Many people who have dry mouth (or xerostomia) find their sense of taste affected by their oral cavity’s parched conditions. Because many medications have dry mouth as a side effect, scientists have developed artificial saliva sprays that mimic the lubrication of real spit.

8. Swapping spit exchanges millions of bacteria.

A 10-second kiss involves the transfer of some 80 million bacteria, one study found.

9. People aren’t born drooling.

Babies don’t start drooling until they’re 2 to 4 months old. Unfortunately, they also don’t really know what to do with their spit. They don’t have full control of the muscles of their mouth until they’re around 2 years old, so they can’t really swallow it effectively. Which is why we invented bibs.

10. Stress can leave you spit-less.

The body’s fight-or-flight response is designed to give you the energy and strength needed to overcome a near-death experience, like, say, running into a bear or giving a big presentation at work. Your blood pressure goes up, the heart beats faster, and the lungs take in more oxygen. This is not the time to sit around and digest a meal, so the digestion system slows down production, including that of saliva.

11. A lack of spit was once used as an admission of guilt.

In some ancient societies, saliva was used as a basic lie detector. In ancient India, accused liars had to chew grains of rice. If they were telling the truth, they would have enough saliva to spit them back out again. If someone was lying, their mouth would go dry and the rice would stick in their throat.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER