How will you put such a terrible mass of sewage in a display case?
Well, we’re not actually showing all 130 tonnes. To deal with this fatberg, Thames Water worked in the sewer to break up the tunnel-blocking mass into manageable pieces, which they then extracted through a hose. They drain off most of the water to return to the sewer system. It’s the crust of leftover fat and sewage, or at least a portion of it, that we will display in the museum.
The process for bringing the fatberg sample to the museum is the same as with any other object: we do research to find out what it’s made of, assess its chemical and structural integrity, and how to stabilise and safely display it. We have an extremely skilled team of conservators and collection care staff, experienced with a huge range of materials, but this is a world first.
It’s an especially difficult challenge for us as conservators, because we have to protect not just the fatberg, but also ourselves and our visitors. The fatberg in its current state is an extremely hazardous material, teeming with bacteria and releasing small amounts of toxic gases. Given the amount of rubbish that people pump into London’s sewage system, we can’t know exactly what sort of dangers are lurking within the ‘berg. The sample of fatberg we’ve taken might contain hypodermic needles, condoms, or sanitary materials, and are certainly capable of spreading disease. Making it safe to display is an incredible challenge to be given, and very satisfying to try and solve.