How These Tampons (And Their “Handy Attached Strings!”) Are Cleaning Up Your Drinking Water

The next time a man tries to tell you that hearing about periods is disgusting, just remind him that if he wants a nice tall glass of water to go with his side order of shut the fuck up, he can thank tampons for the fact that his water is clean and safe to drink.

While sanitary sewer runoff (the material collected from your toilet and drain water) is treated at sewage facilities, storm drain runoff runs into ponds and streams, but this “grey water” is rarely as sanitary as it should be. The biggest culprits of grey water are runoff from inefficient plumbing systems, which means dishwasher and laundry-used water often ends up in the storm drains and back into the drinking supply. Since so much of this runoff contains soapy detergent, one of the best ways to check for water contamination is to test for a chemical compound called “optical brighteners,” which are what detergents use to make your whites whiter, and your colors pop. The science is tricky, but optical brighteners glow UV-bright when a black light is shined upon them, and since they’re so sticky, they tend to last for quite some time, rather than dissolving in the water supply.

Previous methods to test for contaminants involve installing large scale systems that require regular calibration, but as Wired reports, environmental scientists in Yorkshire, UK, have been using tampons to test the water quality in storm sewers around the area. Since optical brighteners cling to fabrics and cotton for so long, scientists wondered if they would stick to tampons. And in what is officially the best scientific methodology I have ever heard of, these UK scientists tested their hypothesis. With actual tampons.

Tampons were placed in 16 surface water sewers, using the handy attached string to secure them to bamboo poles.  After 3 days the tampons were retrieved and tested under UV light. And indeed, 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.

THE HANDY ATTACHED STRING. These scientists (and of course the lead scientist was a male, because only a male would find the strings to be ‘handily attached’ to the tampon) saw a tampon string and saw opportunity. Props. The next time you are valiantly trying to fish a tampon string out of your vaginal canal, remember that scientists are using tampon strings to go fishing for pollutants. Pretty cool, tampons, pretty cool.


[Image via Shutterstock]