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Just how much urine is in a public swimming pool?

Credits: iStock

You may snigger at the question, but however, it has crossed all of our minds! A team of Canadian researchers analysed the composition of two public swimming pools, and offer a response. 

A team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada were able to confirm the level of human waste in public swimming pools for the first time, after having developed a test for estimating the quantity of urine secretly released into a large body of water. Regular swimmers and hygiene freaks may want to stop reading now….

Although we may laugh at the idea, it is a fact: some people urinate in the water we bathe in, especially in swimming pools. And the subject is a serious one, because as described in the Guardian, certain molecules that are contained in urine react with the disinfectants used in swimming pools, and create substances that can cause eye irritation and respiratory problems such as asthma, in the case of long term exposure.

The test developed by the Canadian researchers works by measuring the concentration of an artificial sweetener, acesulfame potassium (ACE), which is frequently found in processed foods. As this sweetener is not assimilated by the body, it is excreted via the urine.

Over a period of three weeks, the researchers measured the levels of this sweetener in two public swimming pools in Canada, producing the following results: they measured 75 litres of urine in the first swimming pool (which contained 830,000 litres of water) and 30 litres in the second swimming pool (which contained almost half the volume of the first).

Worse again, they carried out the same test in eight hotel jacuzzis. In 100% of cases, there was urine present, but in the jacuzzis, the concentration was three times higher. “Our study provides additional evidence that people are indeed urinating in public pools and hot tubs”, says Lindsay Blackstock of the University of Alberta, who was in charge of the study, which can be found in the American Chemical Society. “We want to use this study to promote public education on appropriate swimming hygiene practices.”