Public Swimming Pools – Safety Concerns and Risks

Public Swimming Pools – Safety Concerns and Risks

Nearly everyone loves swimming or just sitting by the pool especially when the weather is warm. Since most of the people do not have the facility of a swimming pool at home, they choose to go to public swimming pools.

Public swimming pools have often been portrayed as disgusting mainly in the media because of the number of people present in the water at once as well as the amount of urine present in it.

Urine is indeed present in swimming pools and in the case of public swimming pools, the amount might be higher than you can imagine. This is not only something that is utterly disgusting but can also cause harm to the health.

The researchers at the University of Alberta developed a test specifically designed to test the amount of urine present in a typical public swimming pool.

The test worked through detecting the presence of artificial sweeteners, especially acesulfame potassium, to determine the levels of urine and revealed some news.

What is the connection between artificial sweeteners and urine?

Artificial sweeteners are commonly present in processed foods, drinks, and snacks that unfortunately form a big part of the modern-day diets. These sweeteners are not fully metabolized by the body which means they are flushed out in the urine.

RELATED: Dangers Of Artificially Sweetened Drinks – Are They Bad For You?

This means that are found in the urine of most of the people as processed food is in the diets of the vast majority of people and they are also considerably easy to detect.

After developing the test based on detecting artificial sweeteners, the researchers conducted the experiments for over two weeks in one large and one comparatively smaller swimming pool in Canada.

Public Swimming Pools - Safety Concerns and Risks
Image by National Geographic

What were the results of the experiment?

This specific technique showed that the observed swimming pools accumulated more urine in the course of two weeks than the researchers had thought. The large swimming pool contained around 110,000 gallons of water and 8 gallons of urine.

The second swimming pool in the study contained 220,000 gallons of water along with 75 liters or 20 gallons of urine. The standard size of swimming pool you go to in summer vacation also probably contains round about the same amount.

Urine is typically sterile and people usually ask, besides the disturbing image of swimming in a pool having other people’s urine, whether there is actual concern behind the presence of it in swimming pools.

The presence of urine in the swimming pools would not cause any harm to the health alone usually. However, it is the reaction between the chemicals present in the pools and the urine that can lead to health problems.

One of the most common health concern that is associated with a lot of swimming in public pools in the increased risk of asthma. Many reports present have also claimed that professional swimmers and athletes have asthma and upper respiratory problems symptoms than others.

What is the connection?

This is because nitrogen-containing compounds such as ammonia and uric acid tend to react with the disinfectants that are added to the majority of swimming pools. The result of the reaction is the formation of contaminants and by-products that are harmful to the body.

One of the formed compounds is trichloramine. The stinging and irritation of the lungs and eyes occur because of this compound. Increased exposure to it can cause greater damage such as the increased risk of asthma signs.

Additionally, the mixing up of the urine with the pool disinfectants also leads to the formation of cyanogen chloride, popularly known to be a toxic warfare compound that causes damage to the nervous system, heart, and lungs when a person breathes in it.

This compound is usually not produced in a very high quantity. However, if the pool you go to is an indoor pool, there are fewer chances of these chemical byproducts to break through as they are able to with the exposure of the sun.

The indoor air quality of the pool also plays a major part. Proper water filtration along with air is a necessary requirement at any public pool.

Read more here – WHO’s official guidelines on indoor air quality.


Are chemicals the reason for a runny nose and red eyes?

Contrary to the popular belief, these chemicals are in fact responsible for red eyes and runny nose and not from chlorine as many people believe. The mixing of chemicals with bodily fluids like urine, sweat, and dirt causes such signs to appear.

Another substance that might be present in the swimming pools is fecal matter. A person who has diarrhea or has ever had it in the past two weeks can release germs such as E. coli into the water, causing diarrhea in other swimmers.

In accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, diarrhea is the most common health condition associated with swimming pools and can be easily caught with just one gulp of the water.

Know More About Recreational Water Illnesses Enlisted by CDC.

Secondly, the germs floating in the swimming pool along with E. coli can also lead to swimmer’s ear which is commonly only associated with over-cleaning ears and removal of ear wax. The CDC report shows that recreational water venues are mainly responsible for swimmer’s ear in children.

Can swimming issues be avoided?

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid all of these health conditions unless you go to a super clean swimming where the rest of the swimmers also practice proper swimming pool etiquette like cleaning before jumping in the water.

The cleanliness of the pool can also be questioned. If the bottom of the pool is not clearly visible, it is likely that the pool has not been cleaned for quite a number of days. The smell also plays an important role and clean pools have little to no chemical smells.

You can also play your part by cleaning yourself before the pool, staying away from it for at least two weeks if you are having stomach flu or a similar condition, taking bathroom breaks every now and then if you are a learner, washing hands after bathroom, and not using any lotions before swimming.

It is also important to check your child’s swimmer pants/diapers before they go into the pool and tell them to not swallow or breathe under the water. Use clean swimwear for yourself and for your children.

Another thing you can do is buy kid’s swimming pools that are portable and easy to use if your children are the main reason you go swimming. These can be re-filled with water every day, moved accordingly, and are not harmful at all in comparison.


Do not be afraid to ask questions regarding the cleanliness of the pool wherever you go swimming as it is a matter of your and your children’s health.

Even the best of swimming pools you use during the summer break can cause conditions that can last for a long time such as asthma or even conditions related to the central nervous system, lungs, and the heart.

If you are sure that the swimming pool is safe and you follow the swimming etiquette yourself/ have taught your children the swimming etiquette, you can go for a swim without any worries.




Andrea White

As a graduate of Public Health and Policy, Andrea developed an interest in disease development, food and safety and the latest advancements in health. She is a Freelance writer who had affiliations with multiple blogs. Andrea is now pursuing her post-doctorate in Behavioral Sciences.

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