Just Because Everyone Does It Doesn’t Mean They Should
Before the 2012 Olympics in London, U.S. Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps admitted to peeing in the pool. Phelps “think[s] everybody pees in the pool,” while Lochte says “there’s just something about getting into chlorine water that you just automatically go.” Phelps even claimed that “chlorine kills it so it’s not bad.”
However, regardless of what these Olympic swimmers think, peeing in the pool is actually harmful, research suggests. Featured in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, studies have found that urine, specifically the nitrogenous compounds in urine, reacts with chlorine to produce compounds harmful to people’s health.
Negative Health Effects Caused by Urine and Chlorine
Among some of the byproducts of urine reacting to chlorine are DBPs, including trichloramine (NCI3) and cyanogen chloride (CNCI). CNCI is known to harm the central nervous system, as well as the lungs and heart. As for NCI3, it causes injury to the lungs. Frequent exposure to these compounds is associated with asthma.
This knowledge has prompted scientists to find a new way to monitor water quality. Xing-Fang Li, Lindsay Blackstock, and colleagues seek to raise awareness about proper swimming hygiene practices.
What Research Has to Say
Research, conducted by the University of Alberta, Edmonton, found that the average swimming pool contains 75 liters of human pee. Blackstock, the lead study author, says this further proves that “people are indeed urinating in public pools and hot tubs.”
To estimate the average amount of urine, as well as DBPs, in pools, the research team needed to determine which compound is consistently present in urine. They ended up focusing on the artificial sweetener, acesulfame potassium (ACE); common brand names are Sunett and Sweet One. This sweetener is widely consumed because it is often used in sodas, baked goods, and even other sweeteners. Moreover, it is chemically stable so it easily passes through the digestive tract and into urine.
Now looking for the ACE compound, the researchers began collecting water samples. First, the team tested 250 water samples from 31 actively used swimming pools and hot tubs in two Canadian cities. Then in addition to the 250 samples, they tested 90 samples of tap water used to fill the basins.
Compared to the tap water samples, the concentration of ACE in the pool and hot tub water samples ranged from 30 to 7,110 nanograms per liter of water; the levels of ACE were 570 times higher than that found in the tap water. Based on these numbers, the researchers then approximated the amount of urine swimmers release. In a 110,000-gallon pool, swimmers release an average of 7 gallons of water. As for a 220,000-gallon pool, there’s about 20 gallons of urine.
Next time your eyes start burning and you feel short of breath at the community pool, it may be more than just the chlorine. To know for sure if you’re swimming in urine, simply test the sweetness of the water. Ultimately, everyone should be “considerate to others and make sure to exit the pool to use the restroom when nature calls,” as Blackstock says.
Another lesson to be learned from this research is that health can be negatively affected in the least expected ways. Turns out that swimming – a great means of exercise – can lead to chronic illnesses like asthma. As unexpected as life is, it’s important to protect oneself from the unexpected by insuring one’s health. Contact a licensed agent today to get the coverage you need!
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