MARCH 13, 2017 — We noticed a wee bit of news the other day and wanted to share it before we burst.
Just in time for our annual spring break plunge into the pools and hot tubs of Vacation Land USA, a group of Canadian scientists has thrown some cold water on the fun. They’ve solved that age-old question to which most of us might not want an honest answer: How much pee really is in the pool?
Yes, researchers at the University of Alberta found the answer, and we’ll get to it — just hold tight.
Chemist Xing-Fang Li and her colleagues noticed that the chemical acesulfame potassium, a common sweetener, is in a multitude of consumer food products. Because the sweetener doesn’t get absorbed by the human body, it essentially runs right through our systems and is disposed through our urine. It also doesn’t break down quickly, so testing water for acesulfame potassium is a good indicator of how much urine is present. They tested their method at 31 pools and hot tubs and found urine in all of them.
Now we don’t mean to put a damper on your poolside vacation plans, but we know you can’t wait any longer to learn how much. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, estimates that a typical commercial pool contains about 20 gallons of urine, and residential in-ground swimming pools contain about 2 gallons of urine. Everybody out of the water!
Before we get into too much of a panic, though, be assured it’s not necessarily dangerous to encounter a warm spot in the pool. Urine is considered sterile, and chlorine kills off most bacteria or pathogens that make their way into the water. In fact, what causes the most irritation to swimmers — red eyes and breathing issues — are the chemical byproducts of that combination of chlorine and urine, sweat and other contaminants. So, less pee in the water means less chlorine needed, which means fewer byproducts and a more pleasant day at the pool.
Feeling relieved yet?
“Our main message is about public health and good swimming hygiene,” said Lindsay Blackstock, one of the researchers, who has been reassuring reporters over the past week that she still swims and encourages others to keep swimming. “Pee in the pool is a simple problem to fix — just don’t do it.”
Of course, human nature tells us that it won’t be that simple — even Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps has confessed to letting go in the pool, and doesn’t sound inclined to stop. “I think everybody pees in the pool. It’s kind of a normal thing to do for swimmers,” he said.
So, if we won’t get the trickle-down influence of celebrity good behavior, we invite the power of public shaming.
We encourage the whiz kids of the pool and spa industry to embrace this new science and invent a device — call it a “tinkle tester” — that alerts swimmers when the water gets too ewww.
In the interest of spring breakers everywhere, we hope they’ll make it their No. 1 goal.