Five other things found lurking in the world’s sewer systems

Be very afraid. Image: via Flickr, published under creative commons

Sewers are scary. They’re dark, they drip, and what we know of their contents, we know to be disgusting. But it’s what we don’t know that really scares us – anything could be lurking down there in the dark. That is, one presumes, why so many urban myths are attached to them. In the collective consciousness, the underground veins carrying waste beneath our cities are the perfect Freudian repository for our greatest fears.

It probably doesn’t help that bizarre things actually do turn up in sewers all the time, making it harder to stamp on the idea that sewers are nightmarish places, populated by monsters: Alligators and snapping turtles; fatbergs and fatberg-loving tourists. Here are five other things recently found in sewers.

  • Annelid worms, most recently found in a North Carolina sewer, are long worms which combine with each other to form giant, convulsive pimples of slime on sewer walls. They also reform when you try to pull them apart, like a revolting modern hydra. Here’s a picture:

  • A Melton Mowbray sewer was recently blocked with hundreds and hundreds of tennis balls, which is weird, but at least not retch-inducingly gross. According to a report by the BBC, “Experts are still puzzled how or why anyone managed to flush so many balls.”  Indeed.
  • In 2009, a Japanese sewage treatment works reported that it had found nearly nearly 5 million yen (just shy of £40,000) worth of gold in the sludge produced by Nagano prefacture. A report in the Telegraph credited the find to the "high concentration of precision equipment manufacturers using the precious metal in the Nagano region".

In all, the newspaper reported, the works was yielding around 1.9kg of gold for every tonne of ash. Which may not sound like much, until you learn that the Hishikari Gold Mine was producing only 40g of the metal per tonne of ore.

  • In 2010, a cow went missing from Fujian province in eastern China for four days. Turned out, she'd spent all that time lost in the village sewers. Aww.

This turn of events sounds pretty unlikely, so you'll be surprised to learn that, earlier this year, a different cow got lost in the sewers beneath a different Chinese province (Guangxi, this time). Here’s a video:

I dunno, guys, maybe it's time to start using manhole covers?

  • Last but not least, Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, emerged from a drain in Sirte waving a golden gun just before he was killed. A video, which we’re not going to link to, shows the rebels pointing with great excitement down the concrete pipe where they found him. A pretty ignominious end to 42 years in power.

Luckily, a member of the general public one is very unlikely to come into contact with any of this. Despite what YouTube would have us believe, items or animals don’t regularly make it up from the sewers into toilets and taps.

Instead, most of the above (with the notable exception of Colonel Gaddafi) were found by people whose job it is to tramp around sewers unblocking pipes and removing things that shouldn’t be there. In the US and the UK, they’re known as “sewer flushers”, and they make their way through pipes clearing blockages and checking for fat buildup, tennis balls, etc.

It’s probably a good thing for everyone in society that sewer flushers are well-paid for their efforts: - £45,000 a year in the UK and around $60,000 in the US. Whether that would be enough to tempt you to a job with a description containing the word “sewer” in close proximity to the word “wading” is another matter.


Podcast: Second city blues

Birmingham, c1964. Image: Getty.

This is one of those guest episodes we sometimes do, where we repeat a CityMetric-ish episode of another podcast. This week, it’s an episode of Friday 15, the show on which our erstwhile producer Roifield Brown chats to a guest about life and music.

Roifield recently did an episode with Jez Collins, founder of the Birmingham Music Archive, which exists to recognise and celebrate the musical heritage of one of England’s largest but least known cities. Roifield talks to Jez about how Birmingham gave the world heavy metal, and was a key site for the transmission of bhangra and reggae to western audiences, too – and asks why, with this history, does the city not have the musical tourism industry that Liverpool does? And is its status as England’s second city really slipping away to Manchester?

They also cover Birmingham’s industrial history, its relationship with the rest of the West Midlands, the loss of its live venues – and whether Midlands Mayor Andy Street can do anything about it.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

I’ll be back with a normal episode next week.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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