Glowing Tampons Help Detect Water Pollution

Posted in: Global Water News, Water Contamination, Water Technology
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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Article courtesy of Alexander Besant | March 30, 2015 | RYOT | Shared as educational material

Researchers at the University of Sheffield think they’ve found a way to monitor water quality and the technique uses the most unlikely object: the cotton tampon.

Leaky pipes, bad sewer systems, and intentional dumping of polluted ‘grey’ water, all contribute to water contamination but remain difficult to monitor.

Indeed, polluted water from toilets, showers, sinks and laundry are a huge problem and finding the source is not straightforward as one might think.

Scientists set out to solve this problem efficiently and affordably, without the use of expensive devices or constant water sampling.

Their solution was novel and cheap: use tampons to bind to optical brighteners in the dirty water. Optical brighteners are used in laundry detergents to make colors shine bright. However, they also make our clothing glow under UV lighting as many of us know from laser tag or night clubs.

If these brighteners were found, there was obviously a leak in the system somewhere or deliberate dumping.

To conduct the study researchers placed tampons in 16 surface water sewers, hanging from bamboo poles.

They left them there for three days and then tested them under UV light to see if they contained grey water contamination. The more they glowed, as some did, the more polluted they were.

After identifying polluted sites, the scientists were able to go back and find the sources of the leaks.

While just a tiny sampling of households, the technique holds promise in stopping pollution at its source and helping to clean up rivers and streams.

“All you need is for someone to have a cowboy builder and connect their appliances to the wrong drain and you have sewage going into the river,” said David Lerner, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Sheffield, according to Newsweek.

“Our new method may be unconventional, but it’s cheap and it works.”


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