“Scuse me Madam, but I need a tampon.”

Tampons used to detect water contamination

tampon

The latest in water-quality instrumentation can now be found right at your grocery store — in the ladies’ section, specifically.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield in the UK placed feminine hygiene products “into streams and sewers around Yorkshire,”  They discovered that “tampons are an accurate and cheap way to sample water quality.”

They were aiming to find a low-cost water-quality tester that could help them detect grey-water contamination.  One commentator said “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,”

The researchers were testing for ‘Optical Brighteners’, an indicator that a stream is contaminated by gray water. OBs are 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. If you dip a piece of absorbent, untreated cotton into contaminated water, it should glow under UV light.

With that in mind, the team placed tampons into 16 surface water sewers, tying the tampons to bamboo poles with the oh-so-handy attached string,

3 days later tampons were retrieved and tested using UV light. And yes, they did successfully detect grey water contamination, and determination of a positive and negative result was pretty clear.
The total cost of sampling? An estimated 20 pence/tampon (30 cents in US Dollars), including the cost of the black light.

What was their alternative?

“Fiberoptic cables can be inserted into sewer systems to monitor contamination, but the cost is quite high–up to £9 ($13) per meter of sewer tested. Spectrophotometers can be used to detect contaminants, but they aren’t cheap, and require training and calibration to use reliably. Testing an entire network of drains and sewers in a large urban area would be incredibly expensive in both time and equipment,” the report said.

The bottom line is that England’s waterways are being assaulted in ways Mother Nature never even dreamed of. Gone is the day when a  cheap big box store carbon filter suffices for home use, specifically because the UK’s aging water reticulation systems – some parts over a century old – have no infrastructure or available technology to (a) detect contaminants and (b) remove them.

A modern filter has to be a well-armed design, with multiple medias that remove or reduce not just carcinogenic chlorine, but the newly introduced chloramines, fluoride, and a wide spectrum technology to manage all of the other contaminants above. And having purified the water, we can begin to look at the ever-expanding field of water enhancement which includes alkalizing and infusion of hydrogen.