She may have celebrated her 100th birthday last year but Sarnia is in pretty good shape for her age.
She quit smoking, cleaned up her act and loves nothing better than to throw a good street party, especially in the summer.
But for years now Sarnia has suffered from a hidden health problem, one she kept secret until the truth was revealed in a city hall staff report last week.
The diagnoses: A severe case of atherosclerosis. Yes, hardening of the arteries.
Sarnia’s internal plumbing system is clogged with fatty solids, which, according to the report, stem from ingesting too much butter, lard, vegetable fats, oils and meats.
The liquid oily stuff makes it way down the drain, solidifies upon cooling into thick grease and mucks up the entire system from head to toe. If it isn’t removed the accumulating gunk causes blockages, back-ups and flooding.
The problem is so widespread that grease removal at the Water Pollution Control Plant now costs $36,000 each and every year.
What’s more, four emergency open-heart surgeries have been performed. The pumping station on Plank Road survived a greasectomy in 2012. After that, three more pumping stations went under the knife after fats built up to alarming levels.
These operations, alas, were not OHIP-billable and cost resident taxpayers $100,000 in parts and labour.
Part of Sarnia’s problem stems from ordinary people dumping bacon grease and French fry oil down the drain. The recommended disposal method, by the way, is to collect kitchen fats in a closable container and put it in the garbage.
But the real culprits are restaurants. City hall says it knows that because it has traced some the thickest pipe accumulations back to them.
The city’s 360 restaurants and food establishments are required by the Ontario Building Code to have traps installed to catch kitchen fats and prevent them from entering the sewers. But cleaning out a grease trap can be a dirty, smelly job and nothing in the regulations requires their maintenance.
That’s about to change.
Last week council endorsed a carrot-and-stick plan for restaurant fats, oils and greases, or FOGs, are they’re known.
First, an informational letter and survey is being sent to all of Sarnia’s restaurants and food handling facilities, to educate owners and seek their cooperation.
That will be followed with an updated bylaw with teeth requiring them to maintain their grease traps on an ongoing basis.
It’s a good prescription, and hopefully it will get the old gal’s innards working properly again.