It seems tampons have many benefits, besides those known by women around the world. A new study shows that tampons can be used to measure water pollution.
A team of researchers from the University of Sheffield in the U.K. noticed that the untreated cotton that makes up these feminine products absorbs the chemicals (or optical brighteners) that are frequently used when producing toilet paper, laundry detergents and shampoos. These compounds are also found in streaming waters that are contaminated by sewage leaks.
So a tampon placed in polluted water will absorb the present optical brighteners that glow when exposed to UV light.
The study was published on Monday March 30 in the Water and Environment Journal.
So why is it so difficult to identify optical brighteners? David Lerner the lead author and professor of environmental engineering at the University of Sheffield explain:
“The main difficulty with detecting sewage pollution by searching for optical brighteners is finding cotton that does not already contain these chemicals. That’s why tampons, being explicitly untreated, provide such a neat solution.”
Although this new method might be odd, it’s efficient and inexpensive.
The study consisted of several laboratory trials required to determine the minimal level of detergent needed to be present in the water in order for the tampon to glow under UV light. The team concluded that optical brighteners could be immediately detected after keeping a tampon for 5 seconds in 1 liter of water that contains only 0.01 ml of detergent. Also, the chemicals will be visible for the next 30 days.
After laboratory testing followed the field analysis. Sixteen surface waters were tested by dipping tampons into Sheffield’s rivers and streams for a period of 3 days. Nine of them glowed under UV light meaning that optical brighteners were present and indicated sewage pollution.
Lerner stated that although impractical for water companies, this method will identify the polluted area and then by working back, experts can narrow it down to a particular sector of the network.
Additional studies are needed in order to certify the method’s effectiveness. Despite this, Sandra McLellan, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who did not take part in the research, considers the first test to hold encouraging results.
Image Source: International Business Times