homepage logo


P is for pool

By Staff | May 20, 2020

Al Wudel sets up for a cannonball into his home pool on a summer day past. Photo submitted by Peggi Lowski

The city of Estherville’s municipal pool project is on hold, and the old pool would remain closed for the 2020 summer season even without the closures mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A new survey, however, finds that backyard pools may hide a share of warm secrets.

The 2020 Healthy Pools survey was conducted between April 9-14, 2020 by the Water Quality & Health Council, an independent multi-disciplinary group of scientific experts, health professionals, and consumer advocates that is sponsored by the American Chemistry Council’s Chlorine Chemistry Division.

The survey found that 30% of pool owners admitted to peeing in their pool, and 54% don’t shower before swimming. Not only is it gross to urinate in the pool, but human urine reacts with chlorine, reducing the amount of chlorine available to kill dangerous viruses in the pool water.

To be clear, the Centers for Disease Control said there is no evidence that coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be spread to people through pool water, and proper operation of the pool and disinfection of the water with chlorine or bromine should kill this any any other virus. However, the CDC recommends that individuals should protect themselves and others when swimming with people other than those they live with, by practicing social distancing and not gathering in groups of over 10 people, both in and out of the water.

While only 16% of pool guests admitted to releasing urine into someone else’s pool, they do so at some risk. About half (49%) of pool owners won’t invite guests back if they discover they peed in the pool, and 16% would tell them to leave immediately.

Pool owners who handle some or all of their pool’s maintenance themselves stated that on average they test the chlorine level and pH of their pools every two weeks. However, CDC guidelines would have them testing twice per day and even more often during heavy use.

“As we are in the midst of a pandemic, public health, and people’s personal contribution to it is on everyone’s mind,” said Dr. Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council. “Just as you should wear a mask when out in public today, in the pool you should protect yourself and other swimmers by practicing good swimmer hygiene don’t pee in the pool and remember to shower before swimming.”

Pool owners were somewhat united on whether a urinary infraction in their pool would stay between them and the errant guest. Over one-third, 36 percent said they would tell mutual friends about the incident, with younger pool owners spreading the word at twice the rate of baby boomers.

Practicing proper poison procedures: 90 percent of backyard pool owners store their swimming pool chemicals in potentially unsafe locations, including fully one-third of pool owners with children not locking up the chemicals.

“Residential swimming pool owners should store pool chemicals in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated location, away from direct sunlight, and locked up to protect children and pets,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming program. “Swimming is a great way to spend time with family and friends, so it’s essential to maximize the fun by minimizing the risk of illness and injury in and around the water.”

The CDC offers free downloadable pool chemical safety posters, and the Water Quality & Health Council offers free pool test kits for chlorine levels and pH through its 16th annual Healthy Pools campaign.

The American Chemical Society said as great as it would be to have a chemical that turns the water purple, highlighting your deed for all to see, it’s not yet available.

However many swimmers let loose in the pool, it takes a lot to cause more than a drop in the bucket. Even if there’s 30 liters or about eight gallons of urine in a 110,000 gallon pool, which is not a very large one, that’s still only 0.01 percent of the total liquid in the pool.

A team of Canadian researchers published a paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters providing their findings that an artificial sweetener known as acesulfame potassium can help estimate the amount of urine in a body of water.

The researchers said the human body cannot metabolize that particular sweetener, so it shows up in the urine. The scientists went looking for it in pools across Canada, and they found it in every singled one. Using a technique they call high-performance liquid chromatography to separate out all of the chemical components in the liquid, they then used mass spectrometry to figure out how much sweetener was in each gallon of water. After figuring out the average concentration of the sweetener in urine and the volume of each pool, finally they could calculate the amount of urine.

Pool urine can cause both lung problems and irritated eyes when mixed with chlorine.

The scientists say: just don’t do it.