Toxic Chemicals from Peeing in the Pool

Chemical Warfare from Public Urination?

Yes, this baby will pee in the pool. He probably has company from the older crowd, too.
Yes, this baby will pee in the pool. He probably has company from the older crowd, too. fStop Images - Vladimir Godnik / Getty Images

Let's face it. It's not just babies who pee in the pool! Is that guy on the other side of the pool trying to look cool or is he concentrating on a little public urination? You don't know, because there isn't a chemical you can put in the pool as a urine indicator that wouldn't be toxic or respond to a whole host of other fluids. The Water Quality and Health Council conducted a survey that revealed one in five Americans admit to urinating in the pool. So, unless that pool was filled an hour ago, you're swimming in pee.

But, urine doesn't just sit there in the water or harmlessly disperse. It reacts with chemical treatments in the water. For the same reason you don't want to rinse out a really nasty kitty litter box with bleach, you might not want to inhale too deeply in a pool full of people. The chemical reactions form two particularly nasty compounds: cyanogen chloride (CNCl) and trichloramine (NCl3). In high concentrations, these are chemical warfare agents. In the minute quantities produced in a pool, you won't die, but you're not doing your lungs any favors, not to mention your nervous and circulatory systems. Chlorine treatments, in particular, react with uric acid from urine to form toxic chemicals. The pool treatments themselves often aggravate respiratory and other health problems, since chlorine is (you guessed it) a toxic chemical agent.

It's really not something to worry about, as researchers have found levels of the chemicals are lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) limits for public drinking water. However, if it bothers you, you have a few options. Swim in an outdoor pool rather than an indoor one, so vapors become diluted in the air rather than trapped in an enclosed space. Switch to a different pool disinfection method. Or, you can build your very own private pool and resist the urge to pee in it.

Reference: Volatile Disinfection Byproducts Resulting from Chlorination of Uric Acid: Implications for Swimming Pools, Lushi Lian, Yue E, Jing Li, and Ernest R. Blatchley , III, Environ. Sci. Technol.201448 (6), pp 3210–3217.