How Much Pee is in Your Pool?

HEALTH

You know that sharp odor of chlorine from the swimming pool? Turns out it’s not just chlorine, but a potent brew of chemicals that form when chlorine meets sweat, body oils, and urine. (NPR)

Hold your nose and take a look at some cool pools!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

New Yorkers take a break from the summer heat in the pool at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, in 1951. Photograph by Howell Walker, National Geographic

New Yorkers take a break from the summer heat in the pool at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, in 1951.
Photograph by Howell Walker, National Geographic

Urine can react with chlorine in swimming pools and hot tubs to form toxic substances. Image courtesy Xing Fang-Li et. al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00043 Environmental Science & Technology Letters “Sweetened Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs”

Urine can react with chlorine in swimming pools and hot tubs to form toxic substances.
Image courtesy Xing Fang-Li et. al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00043 Environmental Science & Technology Letters “Sweetened Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs”

Discussion Ideas

 

  • I think you can assume that if people are using your pool, they’re peeing in it,” says an environmental engineer. Apart from being gross, that’s also a potential health hazard. Why?
    • Chlorine, used as a sanitation agent in most swimming pools and hot tubs, interacts with urine, sweat, or body oils to form toxic chemicals called “disinfection byproducts.”
      • Chloramines, one type of disinfection byproduct, are common drinking water disinfectants and generally not harmful to people not suffering from asthma or other respiratory illnesses.
      • Nitrosamine, another disinfection byproduct, is carcinogenic—although there is little evidence the levels of nitrosamines in swimming pools correlate to higher cancer rates.
      • Cyanogen chloride, another disinfection byproduct, is classified as an agent in chemical warfare. It interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen.

 

  • Why are indoor pools potentially more of a health hazard than outdoor pools?
    • Indoor pools allow for less air dispersal; disinfection byproducts can accumulate in the air above the pool.
    • Indoor pools have less sunlight, which naturally neutralizes some disinfection byproducts.

 

  • How can swimmers avoid a build-up of harmful disinfection byproducts? Take a look at this guide from the CDC for some help.
    • Make sure the water in the pool is changed regularly. The longer water sits in a pool, the more disinfection byproducts accumulate. Simply adding more chlorine might make the problem worse.
    • Make sure to shower before getting in the pool. Just a one-minute rinse can remove much of the sweat and body oils that react with chlorine.
    • DON’T PEE IN THE POOL!

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

NPR: Just How Much Pee Is In That Pool?

Nat Geo: Awesome 8 Cool Pools photo gallery

CDC: Steps of Healthy Swimming

(extra credit!) Environmental Science & Technology Letters: Sweetened Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs

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