Prepare to say, “Eeewwww.” You know it, I know it, your kindergarten niece knows it. It’s one of the biggest commandments of the summer: Thou Shalt Not Pee in the Pool. And yet, be honest — you’ve done it, haven’t you?
Even serious competitive swimmers do it. A fifth of all American swimmers admitted to doing their business in the pool, according to a survey by the Water Quality and Health Council. The survey found that most people who used pools didn’t realize the diseases that a contaminated pool could carry.
Cyanogen chloride has been used (in much larger doses) in chemical warfare.
If the simple gross-out factor isn’t enough to keep folks from seeking a proper toilet, here’s another: Uric acid, a chemical in your you-know-what, can combine with the chlorine in pools to create a nasty bit of chemistry. Chlorine in pools kill bacteria like E. coli, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t form its own irritants.
Scientists in the U.S. and China joined forces to figure out why two compounds, trichloramine and cyanogen chloride, were popping up in pool water. And they traced them back to chemicals whose most likely source was bodily fluids … namely, urine.
Cyanogen chloride has been used (in much larger doses) in chemical warfare, and trichloramine can irritate lungs and aggravate the skin. There have been a few cases of people getting really sick from the compounds, says Purdue University researcher Ernest Blatchley III.
There are more than 8.5 million private pools in the U.S., and another 309,000 commercial ones, according to 2013 data from the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals.
That’s a lot of pools. And a lot of potential for … mishaps.
As summer turns to August and the temperatures climb, many of us will head to the pool for a cool dip. If the water makes your skin itch or your eyes irritated … well, it might be because of something you’d rather not think about.