We've already learned that those "flushable" wipes can seriously clog up sewers. But another flushable product might just save them: the humble tampon.
Researchers at the in the U.K. wanted to tackle the problem of sewer misconnections. Many homes have their wastewater improperly connected to the surface water network, which can lead wastewater to flow directly into rivers and streams, hurting wildlife and potentially contaminating our drinking water. But the problem is tough to detect, because lots of different compounds can be discharged and the timing is unpredictable.
The researchers realized that when cotton absorbs any amount of detergent or sewage—materials frequently found in wastewater—it glows under UV light, and keeps glowing for 30 days. (Know how your white T-shirt glows under a blacklight? Same process.) That makes tampons, since they're made with untreated cotton, a great way to figure out whether or not water is contaminated.
Scientists tested their idea in a lab, and then brought it to rivers and streams in Sheffield. They dipped tampons into the river water and found that nine out of them glowed, indicating that there was sewage pollution in the water. They then traced that contaminated water back to specific manholes, and then specific houses, using the tampon testing method. The results were published in the
Even if you're not going to try the tampon test on your own, the researchers urge you to check your water system to make sure you're not sending waste into the environment. "Go and check whether your washing machine is going to the foul water or the clean water, and get it fixed," researcher David Lerner told .