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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Myth Buster Monday - Pee in the Pool

MYTH: There are chemicals to detect pee in a pool

Growing up in Southern California, I spend half of my young life in water; whether it was at the community pool, the high school pool or the pool at my Grandma's house, where ever there was a pool of water I was in it. Surprisingly I never heard this myth growing up, but I remember always being told to not 'go' in the pool. I think the first time I remember hearing this is when I was in college.

I don't know how official this site is, but I found, a 'Resource for Pool & Spa Water Chemistry & Problems' and addresses this myth in his miscellaneous pool chemicals question and answer section, he also discusses the problems that pee in a pool can cause.
The joke's on you! I can tell you that no such product exists. Once upon a time there was a product like that, but it was intended as a joke! It was not intended to be anything else! Urine in a swimming pool is no joke: it can quickly deplete the chlorine level, especially in smaller pools, and will lead to the formation of odorous chloramines. If there is urine in the pool, the odorous combined chlorine level will rise and the free chlorine level will bottom out. Large amounts of shock will probably be required to restore the proper chlorine levels..... I hope that I have debunked the myth [source]
Here is another great resource debunking this myth:
So, is there a chemical that can be added to swimming pools, to change colour and mark out naughty people who wee in the water? According to Prof. Selinger, almost certainly not. Urine is made from water, inorganic salts, urea, creatinine, ammonia, catecholamines, allantoin and the breakdown products of red blood cells, which give it its yellowish colour. There are also many other chemicals in varying ratios, depending on your health and many other factors. Which one of these many chemicals will you choose to react with? If a chemical can react to urine, it might also react to your sweat. This is such a difficult problem, that it seems that nobody has tried to solve it. And if such a chemical did really exist, surely cheeky kids would urinate while swimming past other kids, to put the blame onto them. [source]
My wife took a lot of chemistry classes during her college career so we have talked about the validity of the myth many times. One of the major flaws of this myth that we have talked about is that there would have to be such a huge concentration of the of the 'detecting' chemical in order for the detection to occur. The probable concentration levels needed for something like this to actually work would result in having to swim in more chemicals than water.

Maybe the only cure for the this pool problem is shown in the sign below
For those of you having trouble viewing the picture, this is what the sign says:
Welcome to out OOL (Notice there's no 'P' in it ...) LET'S KEEP IT THAT WAY

What are your thoughts about this myth, let us know in the comments

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Anonymous said...

If this mythical chemical would react to sweat the same as urine, doesn't that mean that sweating in the pool would "screw it up" just as much as urinating?

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I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree