It seems there’s a never-ending stream of ideas to curb water pollution. Would you believe glow-in-the-dark tampons are one of them?
Newer homes are often equipped with technology that allows unused surface water that doesn’t need to be treated to run straight back into water systems while sending wastewater from the dishwasher and toilet, to the water treatment plant. This is meant to reduce the energy loss in treating clean water. But sometimes these systems are installed improperly, and wastewater ends up making its way to local rivers and streams. But what if glow-in-the-dark tampons were a simple solution to detecting unnecessary water pollution? Yes, you read it right.
Professor David Lerner at the University of Sheffield, who led a new study on the subject, explained in a statement: “More than a million homes have their waste water incorrectly connected into the surface water network, which means their sewage is being discharged into a river, rather than going to a treatment plant. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to detect where this is happening, as the discharge is intermittent, can’t always be seen with the naked eye and existing tests are complex and expensive.”
Researchers found that detecting detergents and other contaminants with untreated cotton tampons is an easy avenue for displaying the “optical brighteners” that are often present in detergents. These materials have a bluish glow when displayed under UV light, reported The Washington Post.
Tampons begin to glow when they’re contaminated. By hanging them on the underside of manhole covers, scientists can quickly spot when detergents, soaps, and other contaminants have made their way into the water system. Researchers found that the tampons begin to glow after just 0.01 ml of detergent per liter of water is released into rivers and streams. Plus, strategic placement under certain manhole covers makes it possible to know where the water is coming from in the first place.
“Often the only way to be sure a house is misconnected is through a dye test – putting dye down a sink or toilet and seeing where the coloured water appears in the sewer,” says Professor Lerner. “It’s clearly impractical for water companies to do this for all the households they supply, but by working back from where pollution is identified and narrowing it down to a particular section of the network, the final step of identifying the source then becomes feasible.”
This way the problem can easily be fixed in individual homes and water officials don’t have to test a large number of homes. Detergents can have a major impact on the water supply if left untreated. Game fish can die of an oxygen deficiency, which can cause an accumulation of vegetation because there’s nothing to feed on it. Excess phosphorus in the water can also lead to algal growth, which can choke the water system of oxygen and create dead zones. Even detergents that are considered biodegradable can have a negative impact on water systems, that’s why detecting water pollution early on protects local water supplies from such issues.
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Image of a man testing the water from Shuttershock