Urinating in swimming pools puts swimmers at risk of lung damage, eye problems, expert warns


Oluwatobiloba Jaiyeola

A health expert at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, Dr. Olalekan Bonire, has cautioned Nigerians against urinating in swimming pools.

Urinating in the swimming pool, he said, may not only be a bad habit but could be an act that put the health of others at risk.

According to Dr. Bonire, urinating in the swimming pool could cause harmful effects on the lungs and eyes of those using the pool.

The surgical resident at the NOHI stated that if chlorine, a disinfectant agent added to pool water mixes with uric acid produced from the urine or sweat of swimmers, it could cause a chemical reaction that can lead to the production of harmful compounds.

These harmful substances created, he said include Trichloroamine and Cyanogen Chloride.

Dr. Bonire stated further that while the chemical compounds created are gaseous and could escape from the pool into the atmosphere before they are lost into the atmosphere, some of them can be inhaled by the swimmers inside the pool, and could cause lung diseases.

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Bonire said, “Chlorine is an agent that has anti-microbial properties and it is usually added to pool water to act as a disinfectant.

However, uric acid is usually gotten from both the urine and sweat of human beings when they swim in the pool.

“There is usually a chemical reaction that takes place between the chlorine introduced into the water with the uric acid in urine or sweat, when that happens; a chemical compound is formed inside the pool.

“These two chemical compounds, trichloramine, and cyanogen chloride are inhalable and can be inhaled through the nostrils, causing lung diseases in the swimmers. They also affect the eyes, making them itchy and red but the lungs are more at risk,” he said.

The expert further added, “The combination helps give rise to a chemical compound which is gaseous and it being gaseous, it can escape from the pool into the atmosphere.

“The problem is that before those substances are lost into the atmosphere, some of them can be inhaled by the swimmers inside the pool”.

He, however, noted that the rate at which the inhaled chlorine and uric acid compounds cause lung disease could be very low.

Dr. Bonire stated further that how a swimming pool is managed by the owners, could also determine the level of the risk of lung diseases from those urinating in the pool.

“Usually some owners of swimming pools don’t take out the entire water they just keep topping it, so in such kinds of pools that are not well taken care of, the risk of lung diseases can also increase.

“It is usually advised that pool owners, should not only disinfect but should also drain the water, wash the tiles and refill the pool with fresh water then add chlorine. Those are the ways to prevent any of the lung diseases that could occur,” the expert said.

According to him, another issue that could occur is when the chlorine in the pool water could get into the bladder of an individual, although very rare.

He explained, “Another issue is the chlorine fluid in the pool water getting into the bladder of an individual.

“Women are known to have a short urine tract compared to men who have male genitalia.

“There is a tendency for the chlorinated pool water to enter into the bladder of a female because of their short urine tract as compared to males.

“But still, I don’t think that has been associated with any disease condition because also the urine tract also has a way it closes via muscular actions.”

“However, peeing in the pool generally is a bad habit and should be discouraged because of the detrimental effects it has to the lungs and even to the eyes.

“A standard pool should have a toilet facility by the side so that when swimmers are pressed, they can easily go there, urinate and then go back into the pool.”

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, “Analyses of swimming pool water samples, combined with the results of experiments indicated that uric acid chlorination may account for a large fraction of cyanogen chloride formation in swimming pools.

“If swimmers avoid urinating in pools, then air and water quality would likely improve independent of other changes in water treatment or air circulation,” the researchers said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “To help protect swimmers’ health, chlorine is commonly added to the water to prevent the spread of germs and outbreaks. But chlorine can also combine with what comes out of or washes off of swimmers’ bodies, such as pee, poop, sweat, dirt, skin cells, and personal care products, such as deodorant and makeup.

“This causes two problems; it decreases the amount of chlorine available to kill germs and it creates chemical irritants called chloramines.

“The chloramines that form in the chlorinated water we swim in are different from the chloramine that is sometimes used to treat drinking water.

“Breathing in or coming into contact with chloramines at the places we swim can lead to negative health effects in swimmers and others in the swimming area. It can cause respiratory symptoms such as nasal irritation, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma attacks can be triggered in people who have asthma, also red and itchy eyes and skin irritation and rashes.”

“Exposure to cyanogen chloride can be rapidly fatal. It has whole-body systemic effects, particularly affecting those organ systems most sensitive to low oxygen levels: the central nervous system (brain), the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), and the pulmonary system (lungs),” it said.

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