Apr 10, 2014 2:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Hold it! Peeing in the pool isn’t just gross, it can be dangerous.

According to a new study published in February in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal, the chlorine used to treat pools reacts with uric acid, a component of urine, to create byproducts called trichloramine and cyanogen chloride.

When researchers added uric acid to chlorine, it took less than an hour for the combination to produce these harmful compounds. (Uric acid is also present in sweat, but the researchers say urine is the culprit when it comes to contaminating swimming pools.)

As forbidding as their names might sound, the effect these two chemicals have on the human body is even scarier. Both cause breathing difficulties, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC adds that cyanogen chloride is also harmful to the central nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Other Pool Hazards

With warmer weather and pool season just around the corner in Utah, it’s worth remembering that urination isn’t the only bodily function that can pose risks to swimmers.

In 2007, a statewide outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, an infection that causes diarrhea, sickened roughly 5,700 people in Utah. The disease, caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium, is transmitted through intake of water or food that has been contaminated by feces. A CDC report published five years later linked the outbreak to public swimming pools. “Healthy swimming campaigns are needed to increase awareness and practice of healthy swimming behaviors,” the report says.

Another culprit to be careful of is E. coli, a notorious bacteria also transmitted via food or water contaminated by fecal matter. An E. coli infection can cause severe diarrhea. Last year, the CDC found that almost 3 in 5 public pools it tested in Georgia were contaminated with E. coli.

“Using a public pool can be a lot of fun, but the risk is definitely there that there can be some disease transference,” says C. Rick Henriksen, MD, a family physician and faculty member at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “Things definitely crop up in our area,” he says.

The 2007 outbreak in Utah led many public swimming pools in the state to change or add rules that emphasized good hygiene, Henriksen says.

“If you notice, most of the pools now require swimming diapers. Most also require that kids get out of the pool every hour to go to the bathroom,” he says. “The problem is, kids are just having so much fun they don’t want to get out and use the toilet when they have to.”

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