Discovering a tampon tucked in the bottom of your bag can be a major Hallelujah moment during one of your most desperate times. But now, British researchers are realizing what women have known for generations: Got a leak? Grab a tampon. In the U.K., glowing tampons are helping researchers track sewage pollution leaks and test the quality of potentially contaminated water.
University of Sheffield professor David Lerner wanted to determine whether or not water throughout Yorkshire, England, was contaminated with optical brighteners, which are additives in laundry detergents that brighten whites and erase stains. Optical brighteners aren't naturally found in rivers and streams so if they're discovered, the water is probably polluted. The problem is that laundry water can look like clean water to the naked eye. But under UV light, optical brighteners have a bluish glow.
Enter the glowing tampons. Because cotton tampons can pick up optical brighteners at low concentrations — and are extremely cost-efficient and easy to get — they became the perfect tool for Lerner's tests. Tampon strings were tied to bamboo sticks and then dropped into 16 water sewers. After three days, researchers returned to collect their water suckers and tested them under UV light. Nine of the tampons glowed, proving there was sewage pollution.
In a news release outlining the experiment, Lerner said:
The main difficulty with detecting sewage pollution by searching for optical brighteners is finding cotton that does not already contain these chemicals. That's why tampons, being explicitly untreated, provide such a neat solution. Our new method may be unconventional — but it's cheap and it works.
According to Wired, the cost of the test was roughly 30 cents per tampon, as well as the cost of the black light. Lerner plans to use the method on a larger scale and identify sewage pollution around the city of Bradford.
By the way, this test is home-friendly. If you ever need to test soapy water — for whatever reason, I leave that to you — pull a tampon out of the applicator and drop it in. Put the tampon under a black light, and if it glows, then you've got your answer. Cue #themoreyouknow.