Blobs of food waste, eating utensils and even a tray were found clogging sewage pipes, contributing to recent flooding at Marine Parade Central food centre.
The situation at the popular 37-year-old eatery has got so bad that two of the ward's MPs have raised concerns. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Facebook post on Sunday that it is "a possible hygiene concern" in need of immediate action.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said in a post the same day that stallholders have not properly disposed of some waste.
Both were briefed on the situation by the National Environment Agency (NEA), national water agency PUB and the Marine Parade Town Council (MPTC) during a visit there on Sunday after recent flooding.
Last Wednesday, heavy rain caused its toilets to overflow, leaving a foul stench as hawkers waded in water 10cm deep.
Stall owners said the centre's drainage has been an issue for several years and is made worse during storms. ESM Goh noted that some waste thrown by hawkers caused oil sludge and silt to accumulate in the drains. He added that the low-lying centre will close for a few weeks early next year as the drainage system is "redesigned and overhauled" - work that "cannot wait" due to problems with flooding and sanitation.
ESM Goh noted that stall owners have twice turned down help from the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme. "Immediate" work will be carried out to clear the sewage pipes, said Mr Tan.
An MPTC spokesman said it will now flush the sewage system and clean grease traps weekly instead of fortnightly. Kerbs will also be built to keep out flood water while drainage improvement work is planned for next year.
Hawkers told The Straits Times it was unavoidable that the pipes would become clogged.
"All of us use oil. When we wash our plates, where does it go? Into the drain, of course," said a 52-year-old stall owner who did not want to be named. "This centre is 37 years old. It's just like your body - when it gets old, you also get cholesterol."
They pinpointed a small drain next to the centre as the main culprit for the flooding, saying that it overflows within five minutes of heavy rain. "Water then floods the centre from one side to the other," said a 46-year-old hawker known as Ah Teng. "The drain is so small - how is it enough?"
Mr Sunny Goh, 52, uses bamboo poles to keep the drain covers wider ajar and let water in. He said: "Make the drain bigger, then maybe the floods will stop."