Environmental researchers have come up with the most surprising weapon to fight the ever-growing sewage pollution that plagues our rivers: glow-in-the-dark tampons.
It might sound icky and all kinds of disgusting, but apparently, that’s not the case. It’s fairly simple: experts dip new, out-of-the-box tampons into rivers and then look at them under ultraviolet light.
If they come up glowing, it is a clear sign that river water has been infested with organic brightening agents. Those are usually found in shampoos, toilet paper, and laundry detergents, so the researchers know that untreated sewage was dumped into said river.
David Nicholas Lerner and Dave Mark Chandler, both environmental engineers at the University of Sheffield, have published a study in Water and Environment Journal, claiming that the technique is actually really efficient.
The problem is that Lerner and Chandler have discovered that approximately one million homes in Britain are not properly connected to treatment plants, and their sewage is going directly into streams instead. And on top of that issue is the difficulty with which the source of sewage spillage is spotted, because existing tests are complex and expensive, and rarely used.
That’s why the tampons solution is so efficient. Instead of using a conductivity and temperature meter to test the waters, tampons and UV lighting is not only a cheaper method, but also more effective.
Lerner emailed NBC News telling them this test identifies the presence of sewage, which is all the researchers need. They obviously don’t get all the details about which pollutants have infested the waters, but they also don’t need all that information.
Organic brighteners are also visible with the use of fluorimeters, but they are rather pricey. The new method only needs a lightproof enclosure and a $10 black light.
Why are tampons so efficient at detecting pollution? Natural cotton is the key, because it does not contain the very organic brighteners the tampons are supposed to test for, unlike other absorbent cotton materials.
It’s not just that sewage pollution is unhealthy overall, but it also alters river ecosystems and eventually creates a gray lining of fungus on the riverbed. In especially bad cases, water pollution kills fish and other living creatures.
Luckily, homeowners who were found to have faulty connections to treatment plants were happy to fix their problems, as Lerner said. Nine out of sixteen suspected sources of pollution were confirmed, and the next stage is fixing them.
Lerner and his colleagues want to do reconnaissance surveys, dipping tampons on various points of the watercourses, in an attempt to narrow down where the problems are occurring.
Image Source: Global Journalist
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