When we flush the toilet, we don’t give a lot of thought to where the bad stuff goes. We should, though, because the subterranean world of the sewer is a dark and mysterious place. Every so often, something goes wrong down there, and valiant souls need to venture down and solve the problem. That occasionally involves removing something that really shouldn’t be there. Need examples? Here are some of the grossest things ever pulled out of the sewer.
A Dead Cow
Dead animals in the sewer system are a dime a dozen, but typically they’re just goldfish that have been flushed down the toilet by grieving little kids. Every once in a while, though, something bigger makes its way down the drain. The most disturbing example of this comes from Scotland, where officials at Scottish Water revealed that during one intense storm a dairy cow got swept up in the chaos and sucked underground. The poor dumb bovine wound up in an overflow holding tank, where it drowned. Its removal was deeply unpleasant for the poor sewer workers.
A Dozen Tattooed Body Parts
Obviously, the sewer is going to be a popular dumping spot for corpses, but usually they’re pretty identifiable. Not so in the case of a grotesque load of human remains unearthed in the Detroit sewer system in 2012. While a construction crew was excavating, they pulled out 12 hunks of flesh, each about the size of a softball. This was no ordinary murder, as the pieces had been cut with disturbing precision. Several of the pieces had parts of a tattoo on them as well. The mystery is still unsolved, and more chunks were found a few months later.
I really feel bad for the people who have to go underground and explore sewers for blockages. Sometimes they run into things that are too horrifying to process. One amazing incident happened in 2009 when sanitation workers in Raleigh, North Carolina, were terrified to discover what seemed like an alien life form growing all over the tunnel walls. They were massive, fleshy polyps that appeared to be breathing and would jerk and twist every so often. It took weeks for somebody to figure out exactly what they were. The gross growths were annelid worms, a kind of parasite that feeds on filth. A huge mass of them had coiled around each other, giving the impression of a single huge (and scary) organism.
There’s a lot of folk wisdom about the placenta, that temporary organ that feeds a baby in the womb. Some people believe that eating it after the birth can provide significant health benefits to the mother. Somebody else — in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois — believes that you should just flush it down the toilet. Over a short span of time in 2009, the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District reported pulling at least three fresh human placentas out of the sewer system, relatively intact. Considered medical waste, placentas need to be disposed of in biohazard bags, not down the potty. The source of the placentas was never discovered.
A Six-Foot Python
When you’re a kid, the toilet is a scary thing. It’s a mysterious portal to who knows where that you send waste down. As you grow up, you learn that nothing’s going to come back from the sewers, right? Not so in the case of a poor chump in Australia, who went to use the toilet on the tenth floor of his high-rise apartment in Darwin only to discover a six-foot-long black-headed python curled up in the bowl. The snake had obviously escaped down a drain and spent some time traveling through the building’s sewer system before stopping to rest in the toilet.
A Little Girl’s Severed Head and Torso
William Heirens, the serial murderer known as the “Lipstick Killer,” was a sick son of a bitch. In 1946, he kidnapped six-year-old Suzanne Degnan from her family’s Chicago home, leaving a ransom note. When the ransom wasn’t paid, he called the Chicago police department and told them to check the sewers around Degnan’s home. They pulled out the young girl’s severed head, torso and limbs from four different storm drains. She had been expertly butchered, but despite the heaviness of the iron drain covers, nobody had heard them lifted or replaced. It was several years before Heirens was brought to justice for this and two other murders.
Thick White Foam
Sure, it’s pretty gross that all this stuff is in the sewers, but what about when it comes out of the sewers? That’s what happened to residents of Point Loma, a small community outside of San Diego, in 2010, when a heavy rain caused a very disturbing occurrence. Thick, stinky white foam began pouring out of the city’s storm drains in huge amounts, covering roads from sidewalk to sidewalk. As quickly as it appeared, it began to flow downhill into the San Diego Bay, never to be seen again. Speculation is that it was an algae colony dislodged by the rain, but we may never know.
A Ninety-Foot Blob
When things go into the sewer that don’t belong there, all hell can break loose. You’ve seen warnings on toilets instructing users to flush nothing but poop, pee and toilet paper. Residents of Lewiston, Maine, ignored those warnings and as a result, built one of the most disgusting sewer blobs of all time. In 2008, sanitation workers were investigating the cause of a water backup on the city’s Main Street line, only to discover that it was due to a wad of greasy, doughy material that stretched a staggering 90 feet through a pipeline a foot in diameter. They ended up having to remove the entire pipe to dispose of it.
A Live Teenage Boy
No, we’re not saying that Ohio teenager Jeffrey LaPorta is gross — he seems like a very nice boy. But his odyssey through the sewers of a Cleveland suburb is one of the most disturbing things we’ve ever read about. Torrential rains in September 2012 should have kept Jeffrey off the streets of Parma, but he decided to go ride his bike through puddles with friends. Unfortunately, one puddle was deeper than he thought and he got pulled off his bike and through a storm drain tube about two feet in diameter. From there, rushing water carried him underwater, through a series of pipes and beneath roads. He finally managed to grab a handle and pull his head above water to call for help. Rescuers discovered that he traveled more than a quarter of a mile through the sewers.
Next: The Craziest Things Ever Found on the Subway
15 Tons of Congealed Fat
The king of grotesque sewer finds came earlier this year when a utility company in southwest London investigated a blockage in a major sewer channel, only to discover that it was caused by a glob of fat the size of a double-decker bus. “Fatberg,” as it came to be dubbed, was the result of people putting fats and baby wipes down their drains in the area. They don’t break down like normal sewage, instead building up to great size. The process of removing the grotesque lump, which weighed in at 15 tons, took over a week. Disturbingly, a recycling company took possession of the fat with the intent of breaking it down to make biodiesel and soap.