Glow-In-The-Dark Tampons Are Being Used To Fix Broken Sewers

Illustration for article titled Glow-In-The-Dark Tampons Are Being Used To Fix Broken Sewers

The UK has a problem: thanks to bad plumbing and a groaning sewer system, 'grey water' — the stuff that comes out of your dishwashers and washing machines — is ending up in rivers, bringing all sorts of contaminants with it. Hi-tech solutions exist to monitor the problem, but a much cheaper (and more amusing) option exists: tampons.

Working out where grey water is coming from is normally an expensive and time-consuming process. You can add dye to the source, to test a specific building to see if it's the cause, or, you've got the option of expensive fiber-optic cables, or repeated water sampling.

But thanks to the specific type of contaminants found in grey water, a simpler solution exists. Optical brighteners are compounds put into laundry detergents to make your whites whiter. They do this by absorbing invisible UV light, and re-emitting it as a blue-white color. The compounds also tend to stick to fabrics like a leech sucking the last leg in town.

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Together, that means that if you dip a piece of absorbent, untreated cotton into contaminated water, it should glow under UV light. So, a team from the University of Sheffield did just that: they stuck tampons into 16 surface water sewers, tying the tampons to bamboo poles with the oh-so-handy attached string. The result: 9 samples glowed under UV light, confirming Sheffield's waste-water problem.

Once a contaminated sewer has been identified, it's a simple (and cheap) matter to progressively test upstream, until you find the particular house that's the cause of the problem. All in all, it's an ingenious solution to a very real problem — and proof that tampons are way more useful than you'd think. [Water and Environment Journal]

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DISCUSSION

I read someplace that the US military medics in Iraq used tampons to help stop the bleeding from bullet wounds, and in fact, had written home to their families asking to send them more for just that use.