The research was disgusting. The admission even more disgusting.
And both caused jitters, little ripples of urea, chloride, sodium and potassium – piddle in other words – when they washed up in Tauranga this week.
“Wouldn't go near this [story] with a barge pole,” said a nervy Bay of Plenty swimming pool official to another in a message which inadvertently landed on my desk.
What he didn't want to go near was the subject of people piddling in swimming pools. He couldn't see what benefit it would have for the business.
Which makes sense because stories about people taking a ‘mimi' in a public pool don't encourage other people to pay for a swim. And if they aren't pool piddlers then such talk just might give them the idea.
All this because SunLive got hold of groundbreaking scientific research from Canada, which found a large public swimming pool of about 830,000 litres could contain up to 75 litres of urine.
It was a bladder-bursting discovery backed up by anecdotal evidence from the ‘Flying Fish' himself – the most decorated Olympian of them all, the 28-medal man, American swimmer Michael Phelps. “Of course, we always do,” he replied when asked if he ever relieved himself in the pool.
So when he climbed out of the pool in Rio after swimming the butterfly leg in the gold medal winning 4x100m medley relay, with the crowd roaring and old glory being run up the flag pole, Phelps had probably just deposited 1000ml or 2000ml in the Olympic pool for the next competitors to sputter through. Lovely!
“I think there's just something about getting into chlorine water that you just automatically go,” said Phelps. So if Canadians are piddling in their swimming pools, if Olympic heroes are piddling in pools with impunity, then it's safe to assume Kiwis too let leak when the urge takes, in the pool.
“Phelps is right – people are always going to pee in pools,” says Murray Hall of the Pool Shop in 9th Ave, Tauranga. “And it's pretty gross to think we could be swallowing pee, sweat and snot when you go to the pool.”
Seventy-five litres is like 36 people emptying their full bladders. But how did the Canadian calculate 75 litres?
Using a new test they measured the levels of artificial sweetener found in processed food, which is passed unaltered in urine. They sampled 31 pools and hot tubs, then used the average concentration of the artificial sweetener in Canadian urine to approximate the volume of urine in pools.
“Probably the worst thing about peeing in the pool is it promotes chloramines,” says Murray. Chloramines give off the distinctive pong at swimming pools and if strong enough can cause irritation to the eyes, lungs and skin.
Chloramines are the combination of two things. First chlorine disinfectants, which are added to pool water to attack and destroy germs that give swimmers diarrhoea, ear ache and athlete's foot. And secondly, perspiration, body oils and urine from the bodies of swimmers.
“But we needn't be too concerned,” says Murray. “Any public pool should be operated by people suitably qualified to manage water and have risk strategies in place.”
Like Baywave, the Greerton, Memorial and Otumoetai pools and Mount Hot Pools. Popular facilities with robust controls to minimise the impact of injudicious pool piddlers.
“I believe people swimming in Tauranga's community facilities, with their hi spec filtration systems and qualified water quality controllers, are safer than they are in private pools,” says Matthew Strange of Bay Venues Limited, which runs Greerton, Memorial, Otumoetai and the Mount Hot pools.
He figures swimmers will still pee in private pools but the knowledge and equipment to neutralise it may not be in place.
“Our hi spec filtration system, qualified water quality controllers and pool quality management systems are designed to cater for large bather loads, which factors in what people may bring into the pool with them,” says Matthew. “The pool water is tested every two hours using titration, the most accurate water testing, and the chemicals are adjusted to meet bather demand.”
Full-time staff hold pool water quality certification and supervisors and managers have advance pool water quality certification. The pools are micro biologically tested independently and monthly to ensure the highest water quality is maintained
“All of our pool operations and water quality is monitored by Tauranga City Council and audited by New Zealand Recreation Association to gain our Pool Safe Accreditation.”
Let's ‘gross' this story up to another tasteless level.
“Number twos, code brown or moon fish, as some in the industry call it, are a different kettle of fish,” says Murray.
This can cause giardia or cryptosporidium – unpleasant infections marked by abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhoea. “They're very resistant to normal chlorine levels and can pose real health risks. But there should be good action plans in place to deal with these situations.”
Murray says the major problem with private pools is under-chlorinating. “Most people are more concerned about pools turning green rather than combating pathogens.
“But maintaining good water balance and good regular shock dosing will fix most issues.”
It may be an urban myth – but the story goes that someone drowned in a public swimming pool in the United States because the water quality was so bad the lifeguards didn't see the victim under the water.
And it is definitely a myth that public swimming pools add dye to the water to form a coloured cloud around a swimmer who pees in the pool.