Anyone who’s ever swum in an indoor pool will tell you that the air isn’t exactly refreshing. That isn’t news. But the irritant nature of the air in an indoor facility, believe it or not, is at least partially the result of the swimmers themselves. With complaints pouring in about air quality at Winter Junior Nationals, and with my somewhat unfortunate – and apparently fascinating – “expertise” in the less glamorous side of competitive swimming, I felt I owed the swimming community a PSA of sorts.
Let’s back up for a minute. Before we dive in (heh) it’s important to know how most pools are disinfected. Chlorine is the most common substance used to kill unwelcome microorganisms that might otherwise take up residence in a pool. All kinds of interesting things happen to said chlorine once it’s been added to the fray, but for our purposes now (and to keep me from going into full-blown chemistry nerd mode) all we need to know is that this chlorine’s by-products do some interesting things. This can include acting as anti-bacterial agents, causing swimmers’ skin to itch and eyes to sting, or fading brightly colored swimsuits after a week of two-a-days, among others (which we’ll get to).
So what’s in a pool, anyway? We’ve got the water, of course. And the microorganisms that the chlorine is there to kill. We’ve also got… organic matter. Swimmers sweat, a lot, for example. It’s just less obvious when it’s constantly washed away. Swimmers also, uh, relieve themselves.
Enter chloramines. Chloramines are nasty substances that are toxic to humans, and they’re formed when the chlorine’s by-products react with organic matter (like bacteria) or, say, the ammonia present in urine. (Ew, I know.) More pee in the pool means more chloramines, which means worse air and water quality, particularly when the pool is in a poorly-ventilated indoor facility.
What do we make of all of this? Well, maybe we think twice next time before we decide not to get out of the water and run to the restrooms – particularly if the air’s already bad. I can’t imagine a full moratorium on peeing in the pool would ever materialize, but it’s worth a shot, right?