Olympic swimmers have admitted to, and your mom probably told you off for doing it as a kid. I'm referring to the process of, er, letting your bladder loose in a public swimming bath, of course — and now that a study has revealed just how much urine is in our pools, it's likely that I'll either never swim in one again. Or maybe I'll just be more mindful of how much water I'm swallowing every time I take dip. Either way, the results are pretty shocking.
Even though it's super good exercise for your whole body, swimming has long been labelled as one of the grossest sports around. The risk of swallowing in water contaminated with bacteria from urine, feces, and chemicals is one thing, but personally I just hated the the shared changing rooms before and after going for a dip. (I kept contracting athlete's foot and I swear my local gym was to blame.) But the gross factor doesn't end there; Michael J. Beach, Ph.D., associate director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Healthy Water program, told Women’s Health that although many of us blame our pool coughs and sore eyes on the chlorine, it's actually bodily fluids that our bodies are rejecting.
Yes, you read that right. Said Beach, "Chlorine binds with all the things it’s trying to kill from your bodies, and it forms these chemical irritants. That’s what’s stinging your eyes. It’s the chlorine binding to the urine and the sweat."
Scientists from the University of Alberta in Canada developed a test designed to help determine how much urine had been covertly added to a pools and hot-tubs and discovered that swimming pools can contain more than 16 gallons of urine. Ew. The researcher tested water for an artificial sweetener called acesulfame potassium (ACE) that's found in processed food and is able to completely pass through the human body — and of 31 public pools and hot tubs tested in Canada over three weeks, urine was present in each one, reports The Guardian.
Graduate student and lead author Lindsay Blackstock, said of the results, “Our study provides additional evidence that people are indeed urinating in public pools and hot tubs. We want to use this study to promote public education on appropriate swimming hygiene practices. ... We should all be considerate of others and make sure to exit the pool to use the restroom when nature calls.”
Although there's no way of knowing how much urine the average person contributes, the study estimated that the average swimmer left around 70ml of urine; what's more, the results suggested the urine content was consistently topped up throughout the day. Interestingly, it was the measurements from eight hot tubs which were seen to report the highest levels of urine. One hotel jacuzzi was found to have more than three times the concentration of sweetener than the worst Canadian swimming pool.
The study has its limitations, of course; only a handful of pools, in Canada were studied, for one. What's more, there was no real way to analyze the urine content, so scientists opted to measure artificial sweetener content instead. However, we'll never know for certain if everyone who passes through that pool will have consumed a food or beverage that contains ACE, meaning we'll also never know for sure how much urine is in our pools.
However, here are a few more facts to consider: One in five Americans admitted to peeing in a pool back in 2009. Studies show many pools contain actual poo. And the number of people getting sick from public pools is on the increase in the United States.
I'll be keeping my mouth clamped shut, with my head above water, as I dog paddle the next time I'm in a public pool. Which could be never.