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How Clean Are Our Swimming Pools?
Canadian researchers studying urine levels in swimming pools have discovered just how high the levels are, and the results are not pretty (CCSS Level: Grade 7, Words: 388)
Mar 1, 2017 Science & Technology
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Pools are giant toilets. Around one in five Americans admit to having peed in a swimming pools at least once. Every pool probably contains a shot glass full of urine per swimmer, according to a recent story by Chemical and Engineering News.

Researchers at the University of Alberta developed a test to measure the amount of urine and took more than 250 samples for 31 pools and hot tubs in two Canadian cities.

The results showed a single 830,000 litre pool, which is about one-third of an Olympic-sized pool, had 75 litres of urine, while another smaller pool had 30 litres.

The people around you might not know you peed. But thanks to the artificial sweeteners you eat, science knows. Science always knows.

Sure, pee is sterile, but its chemicals can react with the pool water to form so-called "disinfectant byproducts," or DBPs. Some of these chemicals can even be toxic, but that C&EN story reports that we don't know if swimmers are exposed to enough DBP in pools to cause health effects. Regardless, it would be nice to know how much pee was in the pool so more people don't pee in it.

A team of researchers looked at one common sweetener in particular, called acesulfame-potassium, or Ace-K. People eat lots of Ace-K, because it shows up in diet sodas, candy, Jell-O, and plenty of other products, wrote Bill Chameides, a Duke University professor emeritus. Even better, almost all the Ace-K you eat, 95 percent of it, leaves the body in the urine, Xing-Fang Li, professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Alberta commented. Using it for the study "makes sense," she said. "It's representative of urine, and it's not naturally occurring."


That doesn't mean you shouldn't swim in pools, though. "The benefits of keeping active through swimming outweigh the potential risks," said Blackstock. So, what does this mean for you? Li doesn't want to shame anybody, but "this is really public education," she said. "Just don't do it, don't pee in the pool!"


As far as peeing in oceans, that's still fine. "The products excreted by humans are very similar to the products excreted by fish," said Blackstock. "You're sort of adding to the mix there so I wouldn't be worried about that."

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