Why Peeing in the Pool Could Be Dangerous | Disinfection By-Products

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

[♩INTRO] If you’ve ever been a competitive swimmer
– or, just spent a lot of time at the pool – you might have peed in the water once
or twice. Or maybe a lot. According to interviews, Olympic swimmers
pee in the pool all the time. Even though it sounds disgusting, a lot of
people say urine is sterile, plus chlorine is a disinfectant. So what’s a little pee between friends…
right? Well, you might actually wanna take your business
to the bathroom. For one, it turns out that pee isn’t all
that sterile. But there’s another problem, too: Mixing urine with the chlorine in your pool
can make chemicals that might cause respiratory and nervous system problems. Urine is mostly water, but it contains a lot
of junk your body doesn’t want anymore, including uric acid and urea, both nitrogen-containing
molecules. Uric acid is produced when your body breaks
down molecules called purines, like the ones in some of your DNA bases. And urea is made from the breakdown of proteins. When these waste molecules mix with chlorine
in the pool that’s meant to destroy bacteria and viruses, they react to form disinfection
by-products, or DBPs for short. Specifically, urea reacts to create a type
of chemical called chloramines, swapping out its hydrogen atoms for chlorine atoms. Trichloramine, especially, is pretty reactive,
and can corrode the metal in and around pools. And you might know it by its smell – that
classic chemical “pool smell” is caused by chloramine gases, not chlorine. A lot of people, like lifeguards, have reported
they get red eyes, a runny nose, or a scratchy voice after being around the pool too much,
which could potentially have something to do with irritation from lots of trichloramine. Some researchers think chloramines could cause
respiratory problems in swimmers, too, since they probably breathe in a bunch more than
your average pool-goer. But we’ll need to do more research to really
understand the health effects. We’ve known about the connection between
urea and trichloramine for a while now, but we’ve pretty recently found a link between
uric acid and a molecule called cyanogen chloride. Cyanogen chloride gas doesn’t have a familiar
smell, but it’s real bad news and can cause respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous
system problems. It’s part of a group of chemicals called
cyanides, which all have a carbon atom bonded to a nitrogen atom. They’re toxins, and nasty ones at that. These chemicals mess with how your cells use
oxygen, so your cells struggle to produce energy, and if the concentrations are high
enough, all kinds of things can go wrong. In one study, published in the journal Environmental
Science & Technology in 2014, researchers created synthetic urine and combined it with
various concentrations of chlorine. And within an hour, the uric acid created
some cyanogen chloride. The amount varied based on the chlorine concentration
they used, but it was around 2 to 8 milligrams per liter. Now, there aren’t many official guidelines
about what concentration of liquid cyanogen chloride is dangerous, but some sources recommend
avoiding exposure to more than 0.6 milligrams per cubic meter of the gas form. So getting 2 to 8 milligrams per liter of
cyanogen chloride sounds like a huge deal. But it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever find
that much in your swimming pool, because this experiment used higher concentrations of chlorine
than you’d find outside of a lab. So, you probably don’t need to panic if
you go to a pool party every once in a while. DBP levels might be an issue at large swim
meets, where hundreds of swimmers are probably peeing in the water. Especially if a lot of people are peeing in
the same spot – say, at the foot of the diving board – that area will have higher
concentrations of DBPs like trichloramine or cyanogen chloride. And researchers are trying to figure out if
long-term exposure to DBPs are related to the unusually high amounts of asthma reported
among competitive swimmers, which has been documented in multiple surveys. For now, it looks like DBPs probably aren’t
a life-or-death issue in the pool, although they’re not harmless either. So getting out of the pool, drying off, and
going inside to use the bathroom is kind of a pain, but your lungs – and probably your
friends – will thank you. And thank you for watching this episode of
SciShow! If you want to impress your friends with science
at the pool that you’re definitely not gonna pee in, you can get your very own SciShow
beach towel, available at dftba.com/scishow.

39 thoughts on “Why Peeing in the Pool Could Be Dangerous | Disinfection By-Products

  1. Even worse if bleach is in the water… don't ask why it would be in there. The pee that came into contact with the bleach would make Chlorine… a poison. That means everyone in the room would be most likely poisoned. I once peed a little on bleach. My nose felt weird.

  2. "cyanides have a nitrogen bonded to a carbon carbon atom" yeah along with virtually every organic molecule. Cyanides have a nitrogen TRIPLE bond to a carbon, if you miss the word triple you're not saying anything at all.

  3. I have issues with pools that have a really strong smell, I get severely nauseous and uncontrollably cough to the point I can’t breathe.

  4. Swam for 6 years (in a swim club) never have I ever peed in a pool how disgusting and selfish are you to pee in a public pool. I can't believe this is seen as normal behaviour.

  5. so i have never peed in the pool in my life but i was drinking some of your pee,,,,wtf,,,,i am going to pee always from now

  6. I have asthma and I swim
    But i had asthma sence before i can remember and i started competitively swimming about 5 years ago

  7. The water gets so murky. Especially when there are a lot of kids. And their parents think it's so funny, so cool.

  8. I’ve noticed, a pool has sodium hypochlorite solution, and so does bleach

    So why is bleach toxic
    And pool water not make us sick

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