In a bizarre story, tampons typically used as personal hygiene products were used for an entirely different purpose and with incredible success. Scientists discovered that tampons are an effective means of identifying toxins in the river.
Professor of environmental engineering at the University of Sheffield, David Lerner, led a new study used to identify certain homes in Britain with pipes responsible for directing sewage into rivers opposed to treatment plants.
As part of the study, rods with tampons were suspended over 16 outlets for surface water going into streams and rivers. The tampons were then dipped for five seconds into a diluted detergent. In reviewing the tampons under ultraviolet light, the chemical compounds caused nine of the tampons to glow. The light indicated water pollution was present.
To trace the network of pipes back from four sites of pollution, Yorkshire Water worked with the team of researchers to dip tampons into the manhole at each location. With this, it became possible to find the source of the leak.
Based on the findings, pipelines in specific households had to be tested. Included in this was one with improperly connected pipes to a soil and sink stack.
According to Lerner, tracking the source of river water pollution is extremely difficult. As reported in a 2009 report from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, roughly 5% of homes have improperly connected waste water lines. Lerner went on to say that for sewage to get into rivers only takes an inexperienced builder who connects appliances to the wrong drain.
Lerner stated that while the method of using tampons might be unconventional, it is inexpensive and effective. While the percentage of rivers that do not meet mandatory standards is down, this remains a serious problem. Since last year, just 17% of rivers in England are considered to be in good health.
Although detecting river pollution using tampons is effective, for water companies this approach is impractical. However, for the purpose of the study in which pollution sources were traced, tampons worked great in identifying the exact cause of the contamination and even specific homes.
The reason tampons were chosen for this study is that these hygiene products work great as detection devices. Tampons are made from cotton that is pure and untreated. Because of this, tampons do not contain any type of optical brightener.
Savings from detecting sources and making appropriate corrections could be in the thousands of dollars according to Lerner. Sometime in May, he plans to start a science project for citizens whereby even more homes with improperly connected pipes can be identified.