Putrid fatberg is museum's 'most disgusting display ever'

The Museum of London braved flies, mold and disease to let the public see a chunk of the infamous "Monster of Whitechapel" fatberg.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

A 7th-century gold and garnet brooch. A Roman tombstone. A 1908 taxi. And now, a fatberg. 

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This chunk of fatberg is safely sealed away at the Museum of London.

Thames Water

The Museum of London unveils a stomach-turning new exhibit on Friday, and the highlight is a chunk of a 140-ton (130 metric ton) fatberg found clogging up the sewer system in Whitechapel in September. 

A fatberg is a hunk of garbage, oil, baby wipes, needles, fat, condoms, diapers and everything else you're not supposed to flush down the toilet or dispose of through your sink drains. Yes, it also contains human waste.

Obtaining part of the fatberg was just the start of the challenge. Exhibit curator Vyki Sparkes warns about diseases in the samples, saying, "Handled incorrectly, even small amounts of fatberg can kill." The Museum of London X-rayed its fatberg and happily didn't discover any needles or other sharps hiding inside. 

Only trained people in full-body protective gear are allowed to handle the fatberg, which is now safely tucked inside a sealed display case. Sparkes says flies hatched out of the fatberg and mold grew on the outside while it was drying out prior to display. It's possible more flies could still emerge, she says. 

Sparkes got a good sniff of the dried-out fatberg and says it "smelled like a damp Victorian basement," though she says fatbergs "absolutely reek" in their fresher forms. The exhibit, which covers everything from how fatbergs are formed to the process used to convert them into biodiesel, runs through July 1, but visitors won't get to inhale the fatberg aroma. 

"We can't let our visitors smell our fatberg samples – they could inhale particles of the fatberg itself," Sparkes says.   

London utility company Thames Water removed the giant fatberg and as much of it as possible was converted into biodiesel.

While fatbergs are a serious problem, the Museum of London still had fun creating a retro-horror-inspired trailer for its exhibit, which is aptly titled "Fatberg!"

Tech Culture: From film and television to social media and games, here's your place for the lighter side of tech. 

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