Fish Tale in U.K. Uncovered: Dead Piranha in Drain Is a Tilapia

Apr 10, 2014 12:48 pm ET

April 10 (Bloomberg) -- It was a fish tale that turned out to be too good to be true.

A dead six-inch piranha pulled from a sewer drain in Telford, northwest of Birmingham, after neighbors complained of a foul smell to the country’s second-largest water company Severn Trent Plc was found instead to be a tilapia.

About the same size and similar to the flesh-eating tropical fish, yet decidedly not dangerous. “We were absolutely convinced it was a piranha” that had been flushed down a toilet, said Sarah-Jayne O’Kane, a spokeswoman for Severn Trent, which has 4.2 million residential and business customers in England and Wales. Fish experts determined “the front end looked like a piranha but the tail was wrong.”

Dumping inappropriate objects into toilets and sewers is a serious issue for water utilities, and costs Severn Trent about 10 million pounds ($16.8 million) a year. About 40,000 blockages annually are caused by waste fat and oil poured down London drains. Pants, underwear and even knives and forks somehow get flushed down toilets on occasion.

Baby wipes and diapers, which don’t break down, and grease and oils that congeal in drains and pipes to create unsightly blockages termed “fatbergs,” are even more of a problem for water utilities.

American Water Works Co., the biggest publicly traded U.S. water company, today issued a statement on the “six things to never flush down a toilet.” Leading the list: Diapers that “will clog a toilet or an outgoing sewer line in a heartbeat. Disposable diapers should always go in the trash.”

Wipes and moist towelettes “are not toilet paper. They are thicker and sturdier, and do not easily break down in water,” American Water said. Flushing tampons, sanitary napkins, cotton balls, swabs, paper towels and napkins “can result in blockages and expensive home plumbing problems.”

At “the end of the day, don’t put stuff down the toilet that doesn’t belong there,” O’Kane said in a phone interview.

Even if the common freshwater fish that was found wasn’t as exciting as a piranha, the Daily Mail breathlessly advised readers on April 8: “Best check under the toilet seat! Homeowners stunned after man-eating piranhas found inside blocked drains in Telford.”