Some find it con­ve­nient to pee in pools

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - HEALTH - Dr. Gif­ford Jones

Have you ever won­dered what you’re swim­ming in when some­one in­vites you to a pool party?

I’ve al­ways found it hard to turn down these week­end soirees. The weather is usu­ally good, you en­joy cock­tails talk­ing to friends and then a re­fresh­ing dip in the pool.

Now, an eye-bog­gling re­port by Jen­nifer Clop­ton in the publi­ca­tion We­bMD, shows there’s more lurk­ing in the pool than you imag­ined.

Clop­ton re­ports that In­di­ana Health Of­fi­cials had to close a wa­ter park when two chil­dren re­ceived chem­i­cal burns from chlo­rine in the wa­ter. This re­sulted when the chlo­rine equip­ment mal­func­tioned. At least this is a fix­able prob­lem.

But Clop­ton’s re­search also shows that fix­ing hu­man be­hav­iour poses a greater chal­lenge. Her study shows that many peo­ple pee in pools.

Ernest Blatch­ley, an en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer at Pur­due Uni­ver­sity, agrees. He’s spent 20 years an­a­lyz­ing pool chem­istry and claims the public finds it con­ve­nient to pee in pools. In fact, re­searchers es­ti­mate that, in a 220,000-gal­lon pool, there can be 20 gal­lons of urine. If they knew this fact, how many friends would join me for a dip?

But how did re­searchers reach this con­clu­sion? At the Uni­ver­sity of Al­berta they col­lected sam­ples of ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener, ace­sul­fame potas­sium, from 31 dif­fer­ent swim­ming pools and hot tubs. Lind­say Black­stock, who was in­volved in the study, says the only way this sweet­ener could get into the wa­ter is by hu­man pee.

Putting aside the dis­plea­sure of swim­ming in 20 gal­lons of urine, how risky is the dip? Black­stock says urine is not a ma­jor health risk fac­tor. But urine and sweat can re­act with chlo­rine to cre­ate toxic com­pounds known as dis­in­fec­tion by-prod­ucts. This may trig­ger asthma in elite swim­mers and res­pi­ra­tory and skin con­di­tions in swim­mers, life­guards and pool work­ers. And it can also make you rub your eyes.

So what’s the chance of be­com­ing ill from 20 gal­lons of pee? Like most med­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, it largely de­pends on the dose: the greater the ex­po­sure the greater the risk of in­fec­tion.

What about the pres­ence of fe­cal mat­ter in pools? Poop is of­ten present as it’s washed off the body dur­ing swim­ming. This can cause more trou­ble than urine be­cause it con­tains germs such as cryp­tosporid­ium. The Cen­tre for Disease Con­trol (CDC) says that swal­low­ing a mouth­ful of this germ can cause nau­sea, vom­it­ing, stom­ach cramps and di­ar­rhea, last­ing for up to three weeks.

So it’s much like the game of Rus­sian roulette when a hot spell takes you to a lo­cal pool. For in­stance, the CDC re­ports that when 50,000 swim­ming pools were in­spected, 12 per cent were im­me­di­ately closed due to health vi­o­la­tions.

This sum­mer, mil­lions of peo­ple will en­joy a cool swim in a pool. The ma­jor­ity will side-step in­fec­tion. But there’s a greater chance of emerg­ing from a pool un­scathed by us­ing some com­mon­sense hy­giene.

If you own a pool, treat it with ex­treme care. Make sure it has the right amount of chlo­rine. Good sense also means that if you or a child has an in­fec­tion you stay out of the pool. It’s also pru­dent to keep chil­dren in di­a­pers out of pools. And try never to swal­low a mouth­ful of pool wa­ter.

But why do peo­ple pee in pools? I’m not aware of any psy­cho­log­i­cal study of this as it’s not the type of re­search that wins the No­bel Prize in Medicine.

But I imag­ine a study would show that uri­nary con­ve­nience is a big fac­tor. Af­ter all, why get out of the pool and traipse drip­ping wet into a friend’s bath­room? Be­sides, who will ever know who did it? The ex­cuse list could go on and on . . . . .

This study proves there are more closet pee­ing peo­ple than we ever imag­ined. So be care­ful who’s in­vited to the next pool party.

But say­ing this is eas­ier said than done. Af­ter all, how do you spot a per­son who’s likely to pee in your pool? I have no idea. Maybe, the FBI has a pro­file of what he or she would look like. Does any­one have any ideas? If you do, I’ll pub­lish! Dr. W. Gif­ford-Jones is a syn­di­cated colum­nist whose med­i­cal col­umn ap­pears in The Guardian ev­ery Tuesday. Check out his web­site, www.docgiff.com, which pro­vides easy ac­cess to past col­umns and med­i­cal tips. For com­ments, read­ers are in­vited to email him at info@docgiff. com. He can also be found on Twit­ter @Gif­fordJonesMD.

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