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The ‘raw sewage’ leak on Washington fans, explained

Did raw sewage really rain on Washington fans? A stinky investigation

There were a lot of teams that stunk it up in Week 1 of the NFL, but the hands-down winner was FedEx Field.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if unknown liquid is falling on your head there is no worse statement you can hear than “it’s sewage.” Typically I’ll scrutinize public statements and evaluate their veracity, but if you tell me sewage is falling on my head, then dammit I’ll listen and take your word for it.

Now, it has to be mentioned that the Washington Football Team is vehemently denying this was raw sewage being rained down on their fans. Instead their claim is that a pipe connected to a rainwater storage tank broke, leading to the fans getting drenched. So instead of raw sewage, it was just stagnant rainwater. That’s a relief.

I thought about reaching out to a plumber to get their opinion on all this, before realizing plumbers have much, much better things to do than answer my dumb football pipe questions. So I did a little digging on my own.

Now, obviously I wasn’t there — so I can’t comment on the smell of the water, which is the biggest telltale sign of sewage vs. another source of water. However, the amount of water falling here tends to lend itself to a rupture in a pipe that is not sewage. Removing waste from multi-story structures is a fascinating science that involves managing waste speed as much as it does just getting it away. Aerating sewage too much can lead to the build up of sewer gas, which puts strain on the system. So typically sewage will have a more gradual slope down, with numerous bends in the pipe to lessen the pressure.

This means that if there was a ruptured sewer pipe above the stands it’s far more likely the water would start as a drip, then a fairly steady flow — rather than the gushing we see in the video. That leads to the notion that we did have water under considerable pressure, causing the break to erupt in water. That would be the case with a rainwater storage tank.

Also, the Washington Football Team put the fans affected in a suite. It doesn’t appear they stunk like poop all afternoon.