Of pee, pools and purity

It seems swimmer Michael Phelps is making waves by admitting that many competitive swimmers pee in the pool.  The Telegraph reports:

It may not be what everybody wants to hear but the swimming star Michael Phelps was right when he said it was OK to relieve yourself in the pool, claim scientists.

Phelps, the most successful Olympian ever, caused ripples of concern during London 2012 when he admitted that many swimmers “pee in the pool” especially during long training sessions.

But he said that it was OK as the chlorine killed any germs.

The revelation may have been slightly distasteful but now scientists have confirmed that at least his facts are right.

Sense About Science (SAS), a charity which aims to dispel commonly held myths, especially those promulgated by celebrities, congratulated him on being scientifically correct.

Stuart Jones, biochemist, said: “In fact Michael, urine is essentially sterile so there isn’t actually anything to kill in the first place.

“Urine is largely just salts and water with moderate amounts of protein and DNA breakdown products.

“Chlorine just prevents bacteria from growing in the pool.

“So you’re basically right, peeing in a swimming pool, even if all swimmers do it simultaneously, has very little impact on the composition of the pool water itself.

“An Olympic size pool contains over 2 millions litres of water and a single urination is somewhere in the region of 0.2 litres.

“To have any significant effect on the overall composition of the pool water you’d need a serious amount of peeing!”

There’s more at the link.

The article reminded me of emergency medical training in the South African armed forces. We were flabberghasted to be informed that if anyone was struck in the eyes by snake venom (freely sprayed by the rinkhals if one got too close), and no water was immediately available to flush them out, their comrades should simply pee in their eyes to get the venom out as quickly as possible. We were assured that ‘urine from an undiseased bladder is sterile’. A few disgusted soldiers informed their patrol-mates (somewhat emphatically) that anyone peeing in their eyes would rapidly develop diseases where their bladder used to be – after it had been removed with a blunt, rusty bayonet!

Peter

5 comments

  1. Also interesting to note is that about 3% of the content of your sweat is what would otherwise be expelled via urine. So enough sweating would also be the equivalent of a urine discharge … not at all out of the impossible when it comes to a training session in the pool.

  2. Even when you know it's common and no big deal (as verified by my daughters who swam competitively for years) is is still off putting to swim into a yellow cloud being created by a fellow swimmer.

  3. So enough sweating would also be the equivalent of a urine discharge … not at all out of the impossible when it comes to a training session in the pool.

    I used to lose 5-7 lbs during water polo practice, so somewhere between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 quarts a day.

  4. "We were flabberghasted to be informed that if anyone was struck in the eyes by snake venom (freely sprayed by the rinkhals if one got too close), and no water was immediately available to flush them out, their comrades should simply pee in their eyes to get the venom out as quickly as possible. We were assured that 'urine from an undiseased bladder is sterile'."

    I remember reading the same thing fifty-odd years ago, Peter, written by one of our frequent visitors to Africa, probably O'Connor or Ruark. The old article mentioned the venom of the "spitting cobra", which I assume is the same animal as the rinkhals you mention?

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