Tampons being used to find sewerage in rivers

Tampons are being used by UK scientists to detect chemicals used in clothes-washing detergents (optical brighteners) being discharged accidentally from wastewater into rivers.

The scientists are dipping the tampons – untreated cotton – into the water, and then examining them under UV light, where the optical brighteners show up easily.

The team from the University of Sheffield have found that the tampons are so sensitive to the optical brighteners that they made a perfect conduit for their experiments.

The point of the research is to find homes that are not connected properly to the surface water network, with water being spouted into the river instead of into the treatment plant.

This type of pollution is particularly problematic. The team so far has found that out of 16 different river locations in Sheffield, the UV lit tampon was set aglowing by nine, indicating sewerage pollution.

The researchers estimate that as much as five per cent of homes are mis-connected, spewing sewerage into rivers and waterways, changing biodiversity and discolouring the water.  



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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
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