"Let's Stop Polluted Water With TAMPONS!"
Water pollution is a huge issue, and even the unseen contaminants like microplastics and chemicals can wreak havoc in the environment. Often it's not even a case of someone being a dick and dumping stuff on purpose. If drainage systems get hooked up incorrectly or are damaged, wastewater from homes can drain into waterways right along with rainwater and runoff. This happens so frequently that a study conducted by the University of Sheffield focused not on where or why local waterways are contaminated, but on the cheapest and easiest way to track contamination to the offending plumbing. They determined: "Dude, if you want to soak up water, just, you know, shove some tampons down there."
Tampons have exactly one job, and that's to soak up liquid. They're also not picky, so they'll soak up whatever they're exposed to, be it your blood or contaminated water. A majority of household products like detergents and toothpaste contain chemicals called "optical brighteners," which keep things appearing white. They also make those things glow under a UV light. So if white cotton tampons are dropped into water that's contaminated with wastewater from a home, they pick up the trace amounts of detergent and start glowing under a UV light. Like floating little CSI scenes in the fight against pollution.
So despite sounding like the punchline of a straight-to-streaming teen sex comedy, the tampon system actually works extremely well -- better than expensive equipment designed specifically for testing water. Anchored at the edge of waterways or tied to manhole covers, they light up like signals at the first sign of detergent. Working upstream, researchers can then narrow down the source and determine which home needs a plumber and/or gynecologist.
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