Swim Ick

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Swim
Tags: ,

So now that my first mental toughness challenge is behind me after this past weekend’s Bay race (set a new PR of 2:31:19), I’m setting my sights towards the second challenge of the year coming at the end of this month, namely, the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ at the local Fort Erie YMCA.  So my focus is now set to all things swim related in preparation.  I’m not giving up running, cycling, and whatnot, but I’m calibrating my schedule to be swim distance focused primarily.  And that means laps and a lot of ‘em.

Unfortunately, an article came across my Facebook news feed the other day that almost halted my new swim focus completely in its tracks.  Seriously, how can an article entitled ‘Swim pee isn’t just gross, it’s also harming swimmers’  not grab your immediate attention.  Oh fuck, just what I need.

The premise of the article seems to be that a) peeing in a public pool is no big deal, and b) everyone is doing it despite the obvious health issues.  This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with the whole concept of pissing and swimming (click HERE for a little reminder), at least then though it was in a wetsuit while swimming outside.  Peeing in a public pool is another can of worms entirely.

Studies have suggested that one in five adults admits to having urinated in a public pool.  Even Michael Phelps himself told the Telegraph newspaper back in 2012:

“I think everybody pees in the pool. It’s kind of a normal thing to do for swimmers. When we’re in the water for two hours, we don’t really get out to pee. Chlorine kills it so it’s not bad.”

Great, so this is a ‘thing’ now is it? It’s just not the kids who do it, the guy you’re lane sharing with is doing it, the old dude breast-stroking in the lane next is doing it, the weird old woman bobbing by herself in the corner is doing it, shit, even the lifeguards just hang a rat and whiz from the side of the pool directly into the water after their Timmy’s break rather than walk to the bathroom.  It’s bad enough when you spot that single Band-Aid which has slipped off, sank to the bottom of the pool and is now doing gentle pirouettes every time you disturb the water over it like a feather blowing in the breeze, but now, apparently, EVERYONE is peeing in the pool too.  Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?  Lord knows I’ve had the odd workout postponed due to a recent ‘fouling’ after the kids swimming lesson, and that’s understandable, they’re kids! It’s an occupational hazard in dealing with little children.  But to think that the guy in the other lane now thinks it’ also appropriate to just ‘release the hounds’ in the water rather than climb out and use the toilet as is appropriate to do is just, well, very unsettling to me.  It certainly doesn’t lend itself to seeing the necessary motivation to do my long workouts, let me tell you!

The prevalent though I suppose is that the chlorine in the pool is there to kill bacteria so, hey, why not?  If Michael Phelps says it’s so then it must be so, right?  Wrong.

What chlorine also does is reacts with the urine to create and release harmful gasses. Scientists have long known that urea – a compound in urine – when combined with chlorine gives off nitrogen trichloramine (NC13), a poisonous gas that can cause acute lung injury over time.  So, yeah, guess what you’re inhaling on the surface of the water when you swim?  Bingo.  These same scientists also monitored the presence of this NC13 during a national swimming competition and found that the levels of NC13 actually doubled – DOUBLED – after the first day of the event, and increased by three to four times throughout the rest of the four-day event.  That means, yes, even the pros think it’s acceptable.

Thanks Michael, you jackass.

Until now, much less has been known about chlorine’s reaction with uric acid, another chemical in urine.  However, recent research indicates that uric acid is responsible not only for more nitrogen trichloramine, but also for a large share – between 24% and 68% – of another dangerous gas, cyanogen chloride, that wafts around indoor swimming pools.  If inhaled, the latter compound can harm the lungs, heart and central nervous system, says Jing Li, professor of applied chemistry at China Agriculture University and co-author of the new study.  Both nitrogen trichloramine and cyanogen chloride have been linked to acute and chronic health problems among swimmers, as well as among lifeguards and pool staff. And I’m not just referring to the typical case of swimmers sinusitis that I get periodically either.

So, if this is true, what does this mean for my workouts (besides the obvious that I may as well be swimming in an unflushed toilet)?  Well, assuming an average sized indoor pool with, maybe, 20 swimmers in it simultaneously, I might estimate that each swimmer (myself excluded because, well, I don’t pee in the pool) releases 50 mL (0.25 cups) of urine, which would equate to approximately two pint glasses of pee in total.  Mmm, right?  Providing the chlorine levels were consistent with those typical of pools here in North America, that would cause cyanogen chloride concentrations of 12 µg/L (.012 mg/L) – a good bit higher than the 5 µg/L that the US National Institutes of Health cites as the lowest irritant concentration.  Goodie.  How’s that for happy thoughts while you’re grinding out 2-3 hours of continuous swimming?

As it is now, my swim workouts typically fall anywhere between 90 minutes and two hours, three to four times a week.  That’s a lot of exposure to piss.  Now, as for myself, I can expect to leave the pool at least once (sometimes twice) to pee given that I’m also conscientious to hydrate while I swim.  But come to think of it, I don’t see many others exiting and reentering the pool once they’re in.  Shit, some of those old fogies who I also share the pool with are usually in there for longer and they NEVER leave the pool, like, ever!  Does this mean they’re just relieving themselves willy-nilly?  Considering that their aging bladders probably don’t have the same fortitude they used to, I’m thinking it’s probably so.  It’s all too much to bear and makes me want to do a Tasmanian Devil whirlwind out of the place! Maybe I should take up professional croquet.

But I can’t quit.  I’ve made a commitment. So let me go on record here saying that if I see a warm comforting smile suddenly spread across your face because you’re taking peeing, I’m likely going to bludgeon you to death with my kick board.  It’s not acceptable – it’s fucking gross and you should be publicly shamed into leaving the pool for good.  Just saying.  In the meantime, I’m just going to have to try and forget about it, or I’ll end up driving myself insane with worry.  Either that, or I’m going to have to invent some sort of plastic swim bubble fashioned out of Cling-Wrap to protect myself while training.  I guess the silver lining is that soon – *fingers crossed* – the nicer weather will be here and I can get back to swimming outdoors where the only thing I have to worry about is the usual stuff, like drowning and Jaws.

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