Swimming pool urine combines with chlorine to pose health risks

April 1, 2014 by Emil Venere
Credit: Wikipedia.

A new study shows how uric acid in urine generates potentially hazardous "volatile disinfection byproducts" in swimming pools by interacting with chlorine, and researchers are advising swimmers to observe "improved hygiene habits." Chlorination is used primarily to prevent pathogenic microorganisms from growing. The disinfection byproducts include cyanogen chloride (CNCl) and trichloramine (NCl3). Cyanogen chloride is a toxic compound that affects many organs, including the lungs, heart and central nervous system by inhalation. Trichloramine has been associated with acute lung injury in accidental, occupational or recreational exposures to chlorine-based disinfectants.

Researchers had already known that certain airborne contaminants are created when chlorine reacts with sweat and urine in indoor . The new findings show definitively that from urine is "an efficient precursor to the formation of CNCl and NCl3," said Jing Li, a visiting scholar from the China Agricultural University working at Purdue University with Ernest R. Blatchley III, a professor of civil engineering.

"Given that uric acid introduction to pools is attributable to urination, the findings indicate important benefits to pool water and air chemistry that could result from improved hygiene habits on the part of swimmers," Blatchley said. "A common misconception within the swimming community is that urination in pools is an acceptable practice, although signs and placards are posted in many pools to encourage proper hygiene. It is also well known that many swimmers ignore these warnings, particularly noteworthy among these are competitive swimmers."

The findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared in February in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The paper was authored by Blatchley and China Agricultural University researchers Lushi Lian, Yue E and Li.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented cases in which people became ill after breathing contaminants at improperly maintained indoor swimming pools. Of particular concern are nitrogen-containing , which are more likely than other byproducts to be carcinogenic and to cause cell damage.

The new findings suggest more than 90 percent of uric acid introduced to pools comes from human urine. The researchers analyzed swimming pool water samples, combined with the results of experiments involving chlorination of uric acid and body-fluidlike mixtures. The Purdue researchers used an analytical technique called membrane introduction mass spectrometry to identify and measure the volatile disinfection byproducts.

Explore further: First measurements of HAAs in urine of swimmers and pool workers

More information: "Volatile Disinfection Byproducts Resulting from Chlorination of Uric Acid: Implications for Swimming Pools" Environ. Sci. Technol., 2014, 48 (6), pp 3210–3217. DOI: 10.1021/es405402r

Related Stories

First measurements of HAAs in urine of swimmers and pool workers

July 27, 2011
The first scientific measurements in humans show that potentially harmful haloacetic acids (HAAs) appear in the urine of swimmers within 30 minutes after exposure to chlorinated water where HAAs form as a byproduct of that ...

Many public pools contaminated with human waste, CDC says

May 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—There are few things more inviting than a cool, clear pool on a hot summer day. But a new federal report will have you thinking twice before dipping a toe in the water.

Natural swimming pools also get contaminated

August 9, 2013
The use of natural pools - those that do not use chlorine or other chemical disinfection products - has seen an upward trend in recent years. Now, scientists from the University of Barcelona have discovered faecal contamination ...

Recommended for you

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

robotb9nc
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2014
No, while this story might be chemically correct it appears to have practical flaws. Some chemists ran some numbers and it turns out that you would need to have something like 3,000,000 people pee in an Olympic sized pool that contained super strong chlorine.

This sort of story is in the same class as those about Dihydrogen Monoxide.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.