I read this article few days ago. Long story short: people pee in swimming pools. A lot.

The article itself got only this short paragraph related to health risks:

However, while urine is sterile, compounds in urine, including urea, ammonia, and creatinine have been found to react with disinfectants to form byproducts known as DBPs that can lead to eye and respiratory irritation. Long-term exposure to the compounds has been linked to asthma in professional swimmers and pool workers.

So the risks according to this are:

  • eye and respiratory irritation
  • asthma in the extreme cases

Surely there are more risks involved from being inside such water. What are those risks, and how much one should stay in the water to really be worried?

1 Answer 1


"Surely there are more risks" well, you could drown. You could be assaulted or filmed in the change room. You could get dry skin from exposure to the water or the compounds in it - when I swam daily in a semi-public pool I had to use lotion after every swim, which I don't need to do after daily swims in my own these days.

But I expect you're more concerned about catching something communicable. As the article says, urine is sterile. People with open sores and runny noses aren't allowed in the pool (there's generally a large sign about this) and the chlorine in the water is designed to kill the germs from the people who ignore the signs.

The article's risk isn't even about being in the water - it's about breathing and having uncovered eyes near the water. That "chlorine" smell we all recognize is actually chloramines, which are formed when chlorine reacts with ammonia in urine and sweat. These are the compounds that irritate the eyes and perhaps the respiratory tract. (The Wikipedia article has references.) So to reduce your risk:

  • wear goggles and put them over your eyes as you leave the change room, rather than waiting until you're in the water and about to put your face in. Leave them over your eyes until you're well away from the water
  • take that pre-swim shower seriously, to reduce your own organic contributions, and pee before you swim
  • don't hang around on the "pool deck" of an indoor pool breathing the fumes
  • after your swim, rinse yourself, including your hair, and your swim suit thoroughly, so that you don't carry chlorine compounds out of the area
  • if you have a choice between an indoor and an outdoor pool, choose the outdoor one for better ventilation, but don't forget to use sunscreen in that case
  • if you have a choice between a pool that always smells really chlorine-y and one that doesn't, choose the less smelly one: its users are presumably contributing less organics and thus creating less chloramines. I noticed a huge difference between the university pool used by (among others) students training for the Olympics and the public pool used by ages 2-92.

If you spend hours a day everyday at the pool, because it's your job to train, or you're a lifeguard, these precautions are probably more important. If you go a few times a week, you don't need to be paranoid about it.

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