March 5, 2017
Artificial Sweetener In Pool Water Speaks Volumes About Swimmers' Peeing Habits

Some people pee in public pools. That's no news flash, but recently scientists figured out a way to utilize the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium (ACE) as an indicator of just how much people actually pee in public pools. The research wasn't just based on curiosity when urine is in pool water compounds are formed that can be harmful to human health. The report of the research that measured artificial sweetener levels in pool water was published in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Xing-Fang Li, Lindsay K. Jmaiff Blackstock and their research colleagues say that their findings indicated a need for better understanding of pool chemistry among the general public. It's not just about whether it's gross. Peeing in pools causes a chemical reaction with chlorine which leads to disinfection byproducts (DBPs). DBPs, including trichloramine, can cause eye irritation and respiratory problems. According to a survey, featured in literature, most Americans believe that the chlorine in the pool by itself causes most of the eye and respiratory irritation that swimmers often experience when swimming in a public pool or relaxing in a public hot tub.

Public pools have artificial sweetener if they have pee in them.
A test for the presence of artificial sweetener better approximates how much pee might actually be in public pools and hot tubs. [Image by Kurhan/Shutterstock]

"Nitrogenous organics in urine can react with chlorine in swimming pools to form volatile and irritating N-Cl-amines. A urinary marker is desirable for the control of pool water quality. The widespread consumption of acesulfame-K (ACE), a stable synthetic sweetener, and its complete excretion in urine makes it an ideal urinary marker," the team wrote in their report.

In order to estimate how much pee, and therefore how much DBPs, are in any given pool, the team turned to artificial sweetener to act as a red flag. It's found in foods and drinks and it's widely consumed. The artificial sweetener is chemically stable and will pass straight through a person's body into their urine. Of course, they needed an analytical technique that would work, so the team developed one. Then they tested 250 water sampled from 31 pools and hot tubs from two Canadian cities. They also collected 90 sampled of tap water, which was initially used to fill the pools and hot tubs, Science Daily reported.

"The concentration of ACE in the pools and hot tubs ranged from 30 to 7,110 nanograms per liter of water -- up to 570 times more than the levels found in the tap water samples. Based on the concentrations of the sweetener, the researchers estimated that swimmers released more than 7 gallons of urine -- enough to fill a medium-size trash bin -- in a 110,000-gallon pool in one instance, and nearly 20 gallons in a 220,000-gallon pool (one-third the size of an Olympic-size pool) in another instance."
It turns out, there wasn't just a little pee in public pools and hot tubs.

Artificial sweetener comes out in our pee, and could help determine if pools are clean.
New tests for artificial sweetener could soon help determine how much pee is in public hot tubs and pools. [Image by TunedIn by Westend61/Shutterstock]

"The level of dissolved organic carbon was significantly greater in all pools and tubs than in the input water," they wrote, though the point of the research was to find a marker that would work so that tests could be made that are more effective, not to actually determine the severity of the peeing in pools problem.

Still, according to the report in the American Chemical Society's press release, "the researchers estimated that swimmers released more than 7 gallons of urine — enough to fill a medium-size trash bin — in an 110,000-gallon pool in one instance and nearly 20 gallons in a 220,000-gallon pool (one-third the size of an Olympic-size pool) in another instance."

Funding for the research, in part, came from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It was the very first reported study that measured the occurrence of the artificial sweetener ACE in swimming pools and hot tubs. Reportedly, the artificial sweetener was found in high concentrations in every single one of the pools and hot tubs tested.

"This is the first reported occurrence study of ACE in swimming pools and hot tubs. The high concentration of ACE with 100% occurrence in pools and hot tubs demonstrates the human impact on recreational water quality. The association of occupational asthma in swimmers with volatile N-DBPs (e.g., trichloramine) highlights the need to control the water quality of swimming pools. Several studies have reported that increased DOC in swimming pools results in enhancement of DBP formation. To reduce exposure to N-DBPs and their negative health impacts in swimming pools, we should monitor and control water quality."
Let us know in the comments below. Did you know that it was the chemical reaction between pee and other organic substances reacting with chlorine that caused much of the irritation we experience in public swimming pools?

[Featured Image by YanLev/Shutterstock]