Why Science Says Don’t Pee in the Pool

pee_pool_6558Okay, I admit it. I’ve peed in the pool before. It seems like such an innocuous act. How much is my pint of urine really going to affect the thousands of gallons of continually treated water in a standard swimming pool? I mean, as I’m always fond of pointing out, urine is sterile when it leaves the body. What’s the harm?

According to a new study from Purdue University, there could actually be quite a lot.

It all comes down to chemical reactions. Most all pool water is pretty heavily chlorinated to keep bacteria and other microorganisms from proliferating. When you introduce urine to chlorine, however, it tends to make uric acid. And uric acid, it turns out, tends to make a lot of cyanogen chloride and trichloramine, both of which are problems.

Cyanogen chloride is a toxic compound that affects many organs, including the lungs, heart and central nervous system by inhalation. Trichloramine has been associated with acute lung injury in accidental, occupational or recreational exposures to chlorine-based disinfectants.

Definitely problems.

So when you add up a slightly smaller public swimming pool in an indoor enclosed space with a whole bunch of people who don’t see the harm in peeing in the pool, there’s definitely a chance that these chemicals can build up, get released in to the air and make people sick.

Places not to pee now include:

  1. On the electric fence
  2. In the swimming pool

On another note, dealing with subjects like urination always brings out the best quotes from academics. For example:

  • Researchers are advising swimmers to observe “improved hygiene habits.”
  • …given that uric acid introduction to pools is attributable to urination, a voluntary action for most swimmers…
  • A common misconception within the swimming community is that urination in pools is an acceptable practice, although signs and placards are posted in many pools to encourage proper hygiene.

The study, “Volatile Disinfection Byproducts Resulting from Chlorination of Uric Acid: Implications for Swimming Pools,” was published in Environmental Science and Technology by Jing Li, a visiting scholar from the China Agricultural University working at Purdue University with Ernest R. Blatchley III, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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