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Norovirus, the notorious “stomach bug,” can spread like wildfire through homes, schools, healthcare facilities and cruise ships. According to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus also can be spread among swimmers in natural water bodies. In July, 2014, 70 people became ill with norovirus after swimming in Oregon’s Blue Lake, on the outskirts of Portland. More than half of these were children between four and ten years old. A CDC investigation found those who swam in the lake over the course of one weekend were more than twice as likely to develop vomiting or diarrhea as those who visited the lake but did not go in the water. The outbreak was the subject of public communication during CDC’s 2015 Healthy and Safe Swimming Week1.
Anatomy of an Aqueous Outbreak
Last summer’s norovirus outbreak in Oregon probably started after a sick swimmer had diarrhea or vomited in the lake, dispersing numerous norovirus particles into the water. Other swimmers then inadvertently swallowed water contaminated with norovirus. Unlike treated recreational water venues such as pools and water parks, natural waters do not contain disinfectants that can destroy norovirus and other pathogens. Even in properly treated venues, however, disinfectants take time to work, so one should never assume pool water is completely germ-free.
Blue Lake was closed to swimmers for ten days to prevent further norovirus cases, but CDC noted its investigation highlighted a need for guidance for public officials to help them determine when to reopen recreational water venues following outbreaks. We agree this should be a priority, especially given the fact, as CDC notes, that there is evidence norovirus can survive in water for several months, and even years.
Healthy and Safe Swimming
The CDC report also noted a need for communication tools to inform the public about the risks associated with swimming in untreated recreational water venues, including the ocean, lakes, ponds and rivers. Many of the same tips for avoiding waterborne illness in treated venues, such as swimming pools, apply to lakes and ponds, including:
- Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting.
- Don’t urinate or defecate in the water.
- Don’t swallow lake water.
- Take children on frequent bathroom breaks.
- Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–to keep germs away from the water.
We submit the following additional tips for healthy swimming in untreated recreational water venues:
- Do not swim in waters posted as “no swimming” zones.
- Avoid swimming after a heavy rain to avoid exposure to sewage from overflowing sewage treatment systems or contaminated runoff.
- Limit the amount of water going up your nose to reduce your chance of contracting a rare but deadly Naegleria fowleri amoeba infection. These infections have been documented in people who swim or dive in warm fresh water venues.
- Check with local health or environmental officials if you are unsure about swimming in a natural body of water.
- Shower after swimming.
For more information on swimming in natural water bodies, see the CDC website, Oceans, Lakes & Rivers and the linked US Environmental Protection Agency’s brochure, “Before You Go to the Beach” at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/oceans/.
1 Formerly known as “Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week,” this year the annual observance occurred May 18-24, 2015.
We recently completed our annual Healthy Pools “radio media tour” of 23 radio stations across the US, during which we dispelled common swimming pool myths and promoted tips on staying healthy in the pool this summer. Here are some highlights from the tour:
Myth: There is a dye that is used to identify swimmers who pee covertly in the pool.
There is no dye in pool water to indicate the presence of pee (pockets of warm “water” may be an immediate, but fleeting give-away). Rather, swimmers are on the “honor system” when it comes to getting out of the pool to use the bathroom. We highly recommend doing this (see below).
Myth: Swimmer’s eyes turn red when there is too much chlorine in the pool.
Too much chlorine in the pool would be irritating to the eyes, but chlorine itself is not the common cause of swimmer “red eye.” Swimmers’ eyes redden from irritants–known as chloramines–produced when urine and sweat in the pool combine chemically with chlorine pool disinfectant. To quote Dr. Tom Lachocki of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, “Swimmers’ eyes are the real color indicator that someone might have peed in a pool.”
For a healthy experience in the pool: shower before swimming to remove sweat, dirt, cosmetics and trace fecal matter (yes, we all carry some, so please shower thoroughly). The pre-swim shower and frequent bathroom breaks can go a long way toward letting chlorine carry out its critical role of killing germs in the pool instead of having to bind with the various impurities swimmers add to pool water.
Use Your Senses and Use Pool Test Strips
Over the course of our interviews, we repeated these simple tips on using your senses to evaluate the “health” of a swimming pool:
Sight: Make sure you can see clearly through the water to the floor of the pool.
Sound: If you are near the mechanical room, you should be able to hear the pool pumps operating to circulate the pool water. For larger pools, pumps might not be as audible. In that case, you should be able to feel water being pumped into the pool in various locations, especially near the bottom of the pool.
Smell: A properly maintained pool should have NO HARSH CHEMICAL odor.
Touch: Tiles on the sides of the pools should feel smooth and clean, NOT SLIMEY.
Taste: Avoid getting water in your mouth and swallowing it.
Finally, pool test strips are a simple tool swimmers can use to check the pH and free chlorine level of pool water. Order a free pool test kit at www.healthypools.org.
Happy Swimming in Healthy Pools. Over and out!
Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council. Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.
Jerod M. Leob
Swimming is a skill that can provide endless enjoyment, help keep you fit, and even save your life. As a group of public health and safety professionals, we have been strong proponents of healthy swimming for nearly 25 years. We believe all children should learn to swim, and that is why we are so impressed with the Angels of America’s Fallen project (AoAF), brought to our attention by the National Swimming Pool Foundation.
The non-profit AoAF project helps provide “wish list” activities, like swimming lessons, to the children of fallen soldiers and first responders. The project recognizes and strives to fill the gap in the lives of children of fallen heroes. We are especially proud that a donation will be made to AoAF by the American Chemistry Council’s Chlorine Chemistry Division in our honor as a tribute to one of our own fallen, Jerod M. Loeb, PhD.
Jerod was an active member of the Water Quality & Health Council for over 20 years, and a treasured friend. His life was not stopped short by an enemy bullet on the battlefield or in trying to save a life, but by cancer on October 9, 2013. Jerod was a tireless soldier for public health and safety. In his professional capacity at The Joint Commission, he worked to improve hospital performance and patient safety. This role took on new meaning as Jerod transitioned from health care administrator to health care recipient during his final illness. Jerod was also a volunteer first responder. A graduate of the Buffalo Grove Citizen’s Fire Academy, he was a fully trained member of the Buffalo Grove Community Emergency Response Team. In 2005, Jerod was appointed Commissioner of Fire and Police for the municipality of Buffalo Grove.
We miss our friend terribly, both professionally and personally. We respectfully place Jerod in the ranks of America’s fallen heroes, and honor his memory with the very real tribute of children of other fallen heroes becoming proficient swimmers.
Angels of America’s Fallen is a 501(c)(3) public charity headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Kiddie pools can bring hours of delight to young children on a hot summer day. But unlike larger pools, small plastic and inflatable kiddie pools are normally not equipped with water filters or treated with chemicals that remove germs and balance pH. Add to this the fact that hygiene is not a strong suit of the kiddie pool set, and a few helpful tips are in order for safe fun in the kiddie pool:
- Fill the pool with fresh water before each use: Without the benefit of chemical treatment, kiddie pools must be refilled with fresh tap water before each use. When my children were small, I would fill the pool with water early in the morning and let it warm up for a few hours before letting the children go in. Naturally, adult supervision is needed around the water-filled pool.
- Bathe children before they enter the pool: This may sound counterintuitive, but without bathing children first, the risk of their contaminating the pool with pathogens rises. Without getting too graphic, the diaper and underpants area are the source of most of the pathogens that can make kids sick. Change diapers as needed, and keep in mind that swim diapers or swim pants are not leak-proof. If your little swimmer is potty trained, build in some bathroom breaks to avoid “accidents.”
- Sick children should not be in the pool with other children: A child who is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting must not be allowed in the pool with other children. If a child becomes sick in the kiddie pool, a quick exit of everyone from the pool is in order. The pool must be emptied of water, cleaned and disinfected before being used again (see the next tip).
Do You Bathe Your Children Together?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website notes children from the same family or household who are often bathed together are unlikely to be at increased risk of spreading diarrheal illness to each other when using the same inflatable or plastic pool. Allowing larger numbers of children from different families to use these pools, however, is likely to increase the risk of spreading diarrheal illnesses.
- Clean and disinfect the kiddie pool after each use: Drain or empty the pool after each use. Leaving the pool full overnight is unsafe, both because it is a potential drowning risk and a potential waterborne disease risk. (Did I mention there are no disinfectants in the water?) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning the pool after it has been used, and once dry, leaving it in the sun for at least four hours. The ultraviolet rays of the sun can be effective at destroying pathogens. Alternatively, if manufacturer’s directions agree, the kiddie pool interior can be cleaned and then disinfected with a simple chlorine bleach solution. For example, the “How to Clean Stuff” website1 recommends using a solution of one part bleach to five parts water. Rinse the pool well after this treatment.
- Don’t drink the kiddie pool water: Discourage children from drinking pool water from kiddie pools or from any pool, for that matter. After all, we know from a 2009 Water Quality & Health Council survey that approximately one in five adults admit to having peed in the pool–a habit that might have started in the kiddie pool. Distracting young children with a “sippy cup” of a favorite beverage may help, but don’t be surprised if the beverage ends up poured over somebody’s head!
Here’s to a happy, healthy and safe fun in the kiddie pool.
Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.
1 Although the “How to Clean Stuff” website recommends draining kiddie pools only once per week, I strongly recommend draining the pool immediately after use.
For many, a refreshing dip in the pool is a welcome rite of summer. With this “rite” come swimmer responsibilities. To mark this year’s Healthy and Safe Swimming Week1, we explore the topic of swimmer hygiene. Warning: this discussion is somewhat graphic, but it is meant only to encourage healthy swimming.
Swimmers Affect Pool Water Chemistry
Healthy swimming requires healthy pools. It is the pool manager’s responsibility to maintain proper pool chemistry, including appropriate pH and chlorine levels. But did you know that swimmers can affect pool chemistry just by entering the pool?
As pool water contacts skin, perspiration, dirt, body oils and cosmetics are washed into the water. Swimmers may also introduce pathogens (disease-causing germs), particularly from the perianal area (the area of skin around the anus), and especially if the swimmer has not showered appropriately. CDC makes the point (see the CDC brochure, “Share the Fun…not the Germs, and Make a Healthy Splash”) that babies in diapers, even swim diapers and swim pants, may contribute urine or fecal matter to the water, as these items are not leak-proof. Additionally, some swimmers believe it is ok to “pee in the pool.” Taken together, that’s a lot of “chemistry added.” Not to mention pathogens, the “biology added.”
The Role of Chlorine
You may ask: Doesn’t chlorine control the germs in pools? Why be concerned? Chlorine-based disinfectants do destroy most waterborne pathogens. Impurities introduced by unhygienic practices deplete chlorine, however, leaving everyone at greater risk for infection if chlorine levels are not carefully maintained.
Swimmers can help keep pool water safer for everyone by showering before swimming and not peeing in the pool. Additionally, anyone experiencing diarrhea should stay out of the pool, and swimmers should avoid swallowing pool water. As CDC notes, just one mouthful of “germy water” is enough to sicken some people.
Swimmers Can Monitor Pool Chemistry
You can keep tabs on pool water chemistry by using pool test kits to monitor the pH and chlorine level. Every summer, the Water Quality & Health Council makes these kits freely available to the public (one to each household) at www.healthypools.org. The kit includes color-coded test strips for dipping into pool water and instructions for interpreting the results. If readings for the public pool you visit are off, see the pool manager and don’t swim until levels are corrected. If levels are not satisfactorily corrected, contact the local public health department, as they have the authority to regulate public pools.
Backyard and community pools bring friends and family together in one of the few remaining environments in which smart phones and tablets are not a major distraction—a refreshing thought! Armed with a greater awareness of swimmer hygiene issues, we hope your pool experience will be refreshingly healthy.
Download or order the CDC brochure, “Share the fun…not the germs, and make a healthy splash!”
Bob G. Vincent is an Environmental Administrator in the Florida Department of Health. He manages Department of Health programs for Healthy Marine Beaches, Safe Drinking Water, Water Well Surveillance and Public Pools and Bathing Places.
1Healthy and Safe Swimming Week is May 18-24, 2015, and is sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mythical pee detecting dye? Nope. Chlorine causes red eye? Nope.
But “red eyes” is a colorful indicator that someone might have peed in the pool.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the swimming season kicks off, health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Water Quality and Health Council and the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) have teamed up to launch a campaign to stop people from peeing in the pool. To do so, they are busting a couple of colorful myths associated with this clandestine activity.
According to a new survey conducted by Survata on behalf of the Water Quality and Health Council, nearly half of Americans surveyed incorrectly believe that there is a chemical that is added to pools that turns a conspicuous color in the presence of pee. In the same survey, 71 percent also incorrectly blame chlorine for causing swimmers’ eyes to become red and irritated.
“Chlorine and other disinfectants are added to a swimming pool to destroy germs. Peeing in a pool depletes chlorine and actually produces an irritant that makes people’s eyes turn red,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program… “The solution isn’t rocket science; it’s common courtesy. Swimmers should use the pool to swim, the restroom to pee, and the showers to wash up before getting in the pool. It’s that simple.”
“There isn’t a dye that turns red, it’s the eyes that turn red. Swimmers’ eyes are the real color indicator that someone might have peed in a pool,” said Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the NSPF.
“That ‘chlorine’ smell at the pool isn’t actually chlorine. What you smell are chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with pee, sweat, and dirt from swimmers’ bodies,” said Chris Wiant, Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council “These chemicals—not chlorine—can cause your eyes to become red and sting, make your nose run, and make you cough.”
Busting the Pool Dye Myth
It’s the most common pool myth of all time: If you pee in the pool the water will change color and everyone will know. Parents have long used the story of a chemical that changes color in the presence of pee to keep their children from peeing in the pool. The fact is there is no such dye that currently exists.
Busting the Chlorine/Red Eye Myth
When nitrogen-containing compounds found in pee, sweat, and dirt combine with chlorine, irritants are formed. These substances, not the chlorine itself, irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory system. In this case, more chlorine may actually need to be added to pool water to break down irritants, according to the Water Quality and Health Council.
Getting the Word Out
Lachocki added that swimming keeps us happy and healthy. We need more healthy swimming and less seeing red! The CDC and the American Chemistry Council also have collaborated on a brochure that includes key messages about healthy swimming, which include showering before swimming and not peeing in a pool. To order a free CDC brochure, go to www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/resources/brochures.html.
The Water Quality and Health Council is once again making free pool test kits available this summer through their Healthy Pools campaign. Swimmers can test their backyard pool or community pool to ensure it has a proper pH and chlorine level. Good pool chemistry combined with a few easy and effective healthy swimming steps will not only help reduce unwanted germs in the pool, but they can help reduce instances of red eye.
The survey was conducted by Survata, an independent research firm in San Francisco. Survata interviewed 1,500 online respondents between April 23, 2015 and April 28, 2015. The margin of error for the survey is 2.53%.
This YouTube video on Pool Chemical Safety provides tips on avoiding pool chemical accidents and injuries.
What’s more refreshing than swimming in crystal-clear pool water? It takes chemistry to achieve “crystal clear”—the appropriate use of disinfectants, pH adjusters and algaecides. Pool water would quickly become a cloudy, hazardous “microbial soup” without pool chemicals, but as with all chemicals, the ones we use in the pool must be treated with a heaping dose of healthy respect. The following three case studies, taken from recent news reports, illustrate the unfortunate and sometimes tragic results of mishandling pool chemicals. “Lessons learned” from these examples are highlighted below.
Keep Pool Chemicals Dry
A hotel in Waldorf, Maryland was evacuated on the morning of March 14, 2015 when two young children complained of eye irritation. The youngsters had been playing in the hotel hot tub, located next to the pool chemical storage area, according to a report in the Washington Post. A spokesperson for the Charles County Volunteer Fire and EMS Associations later explained that, “A five-gallon container of chlorine tablets had gotten wet, and the odor had begun to spread.”
The “odor” referred to by the spokesperson was caused by a very concentrated solution of the chemical, made as water contacted it. Heat might have been released when water contacted the chlorine tablets, and the product might have begun to decompose, potentially leading to gas generation. To avoid such chemical reactions, pool chemicals must be kept dry in storage:
- Store pool chemicals in a location in which they will remain dry and not be exposed to rain, snow or floodwaters.
- Store liquid pool chemicals low to prevent accidental contact by their leaking onto chemicals stored below them.
Designate Containers for Only One Pool Chemical
A maintenance worker in a senior living home in Cayuga Heights, New York was overcome by fumes last August 9, when he accidentally “put chlorine in a container for muriatic acid,” according to a Syracuse, New York area TV news report. “Chlorine” in this story likely refers to either solid chlorine-based pool disinfectant or liquid chlorine bleach. When the chlorine-based disinfectant contacted acid remaining in the container, a chemical reaction occurred that generated chlorine gas, sickening the maintenance worker. To avoid chemical reactions that may generate unwanted chemical products, never reuse chemical containers, as traces of the original chemical may remain and be reactive with introduced products:
- Keep chemicals closed in original, labeled containers.
- Read the entire product label or Material Safety Data Sheet before using or storing chemicals.
- Dress for safety by wearing appropriate safety equipment, such as safety goggles, gloves and mask.
Never Mix Pool Chemicals
A Buena Park, California pool maintenance worker died of injuries he suffered when he was overcome by fumes generated by chemical mixing in an apartment building garage on February 24, 2015. The Orange County Register reported fire authorities “…lifted [the man] out of a puddle of yellow chemicals, which omitted a yellow gas…[the man] had severe burns to his back face and respiratory tract, including his lungs.”
Several pool-cleaning chemicals were found at the scene, including chlorine and hydrochloric acid. The news report speculates that the man might have inhaled toxic fumes, causing him to fall unconscious, knocking over and spilling chemicals as he fell. A spokesperson for the Orange County Fire Authority stated, “With all pool chemicals we have to make sure they are separated and that they do not mix…. Some chemicals, when they mix, can be deadly.” This disastrous example contains several lessons:
- Handle pool chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
- Open one product container at a time and close it before opening another.
- Minimize dust, fumes and splashes.
- Never mix chlorine products with acid; this could create toxic gases. Even carbonated beverages are acidic enough to react with chlorine products! Keep food and drinks away from pool chemicals.
- Never mix different pool chemicals (for example, different types of chlorine products) with each other or with any other substance.
- Only pre-dissolve pool chemicals when directed by the product label.
Pool chemical accidents in the US lead to thousands of visits to emergency departments each year.1 Yet, many pool chemical accidents are preventable. Preventing accidents is a matter of maintenance workers and backyard pool owners being armed with safety knowledge. For important tips on safely using and storing pool chemicals, download or order a free set of pool chemical safety posters at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Further detail can be found in the You Tube video, “Pool Chemical Safety,” which was developed by the Chlorine Institute and the American Chemistry Council, and contains messages based on information from the CDC.
Click here to download this article
Bob G. Vincent is an Environmental Administrator in the Florida Department of Health. He manages Department of Health programs for Healthy Marine Beaches, Safe Drinking Water, Water Well Surveillance and Public Pools and Bathing Places.
1 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 15, 2009/58(18); 489-2007. Pool Chemical—Associated Health Events in Public and Residential Settings — United States, 1983-2007. On-line, available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5818a1.htm
Swimming pools are amazing venues for recreation and exercise. They are also reservoirs of all the substances swimmers introduce into them. In addition to the substances that swimmers apply to themselves while at the pool, the average swimmer adds low levels of personal care products like deodorant, skin lotions, sprays and makeup, especially if they fail to shower before entering the pool. Additionally, according to a 2009 Water Quality & Health Council survey, one in five adult Americans admits to having “peed in the pool,” introducing not only urine, but potentially low levels of caffeine and pharmaceuticals. It is estimated that the average swimmer also introduces trace amounts of fecal matter into the pool. Add to this mix needed disinfectants (see: fecal matter reference), and you have all the makings of a chemistry experiment in a large “bath tub.”
This summer, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the availability of the first edition of its Model Aquatic Health Code. “The MAHC,” as it is known, provides free guidance on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public swimming pools and spas. Why is such a document needed?
As CDC notes on its website, there is no federal regulatory agency responsible for the proper functioning of aquatic facilities. About 68 percent of local health departments regulate or inspect public swimming pools and facilities. These health departments write and update their codes periodically, expending valuable local resources. And yet, in 2010, CDC reported one in eight pool inspections conducted in 15 states in 2008 resulted in immediate closures due to serious violations, such as a lack of disinfectant in the water. Poorly operated aquatic facilities can lead to drowning, recreational water illness outbreaks and chemical injuries.
The MAHC Process
In 2007, CDC convened experts to develop a voluntary, science-based code for safer aquatic facilities. The idea was to provide a document to which states and localities can refer without having to spend time and money reinventing the wheel when it comes to aquatic facilities. CDC organized a steering committee and 12 technical committees to address important topics including operator training;
Examples of MAHC Recommendations
“A qualified operator of an aquatic facility shall have completed an operator training course that is recognized by the authority having jurisdiction.” (Section 6.1)
Aquatic facilities shall provide hygiene facilities that include, at a minimum, toilets, urinals, showers, diaper-changing stations, and other hygiene fixtures, as specified herein. (Section 184.108.40.206)
Minimum Free Available Chlorine (FAC) Concentrations
Minimum FAC concentrations are 1.0 ppm for aquatic venues not using cyanuric acid stabilizer; 2.0 ppm for aquatic venues using cyanuric acid; and 3.0 ppm for spas; only chlorine products that are EPA-registered for use in US aquatic venues or spas are permitted. (Section 5.7.8)
disinfection and water quality; recirculation system and filtration; lifeguarding and bather supervision; monitoring and testing; facility design and construction; and hygiene facilities. The committees were composed of volunteer subject matter experts from public health, academia, aquatics and industry. Over the course of its seven-year development, the MAHC invited two sets of public comments, resulting in over 4,000 submissions. The great majority of these comments, 72 percent, were accepted and incorporated into the MAHC, evidence of a truly collaborative process.
The MAHC process is based largely on the process used by the Conference for Food Protection to create the Food Code. The MAHC will be updated every two years through the new Conference for the Model Aquatic Health Code, which is being organized currently by CDC, with stakeholder input. The first update will take place in October 2015 in a pre-conference meeting of the 12th World Aquatic Health Conference.
The Public Health Impact
The MAHC is expected to be adopted widely in the US by states and local governments. CDC sets no rules or mandates for adopting the Code: Some jurisdictions may choose to adopt it in its entirety, while others may adopt only parts of the MAHC. One thing is for sure: Developing a model code for aquatic facilities is a step in the right direction for aquatic health and safety. Bravo, CDC and volunteer contributors, on reaching a significant milestone: The first edition of the Model Aquatic Health Code!
Learn more about The Model Aquatic Health Code.
Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.
A short video produced recently by the American Chemical Society answers the question, “Is it OK to Pee in the Ocean?” with a resounding “yes!” Ocean swimmers, relax, and know that your, eh, “contribution” is processed by the marine environment. Pool swimmers, you are not off the hook. When nature calls, swim to the nearest ladder and find the restroom.
A Tale of Two Watery Environments
Ocean and Pool: Relative Volumes
The volume of the Atlantic Ocean, at 350 quintillion liters, is vast—140 trillion times the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool (about 2.5 million liters). Urine, a salty water solution containing low levels of urea (a waste product left after our bodies process protein), is greatly diluted in the already salty ocean. Swimmer urine makes a much more significant contribution in a pool, especially a crowded one.
Here’s why swimmers get a thumbs up for peeing in the ocean and a thumbs down for peeing in the pool:
All forms of aquatic life pee in the ocean with no adverse effects to the marine environment. Urea in the ocean actually helps feed plant life, so there is a “system balance” present that is not found in swimming pools. Pools are manmade constructions that must contain disinfectants, such as chlorine, to help prevent germs spreading among swimmers in close contact with one another.
In swimming pools, urea and disinfectant combine chemically to produce unwanted compounds that are irritants. Swimmer “red eye” and itchy skin are caused by these substances, known as disinfection byproducts. Many people think the characteristic pungent chemical smell around pools is from chlorine, but in fact, it is due to disinfection byproducts.
Swimmers can help maintain the quality of their pool water by using the bathroom and showering before swimming. Showering removes sweat, cosmetics and traces of urine and feces. Minimizing these substances in the pool helps prevent disinfection byproducts forming and frees chlorine do its job of destroying germs.
In conclusion, please don’t pee in the pool, but if you are going for a swim in the ocean, take your cue from the fish: You can pee in the ocean and you don’t have to feel guilty about it!
Bruce Bernard, PhD, is President of SRA Consulting, Inc. and Associate Editor of the International Journal of Toxicology.