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The United States Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, has released its annual healthy swimming report, and hold on to your butts…literally…because they’ve revealed that the strong pool smell you associate with chlorine is actually the smell of pee in the pool. Ditto those red, irritated eyes you blame on the chemical. Oh boy.
The headlines here surprised me, because I was lucky enough to grow up with a pool that I was in constantly from the day it opened in the spring until my parents dragged me out to go to school in the fall. And I remember that the smell was stronger and my eyes more irritated just after my dad “shocked” the pool with chemicals. And, as the primary occupant of the pool, I never peed in it once. Really. Somehow my parents were able to ingrain the “no pee in the pool” rule so deeply that to this day I can’t even force myself to pee in the ocean. It’s a serious psychological handicap.
Well, the reason for all of this to be true is that the strong smell and irritated eyes do have something to do with chlorine: they come from the chlorine binding with the nitrogen in your urine to create chloramine, which is a derivative of ammonia.
And nitrogen isn’t just in your pee and poo — it’s also in your sweat and in dirt, which is where the smell came from in my pool considering that I would preface a refreshing swim with a lot of running around in the woods.
The problem is that when the chlorine is busy binding to all that nitrogen, there’s not much left over for doing what it’s really there to do: fight germs like cryptosporidium and E. coli. That can lead to serious illness if you happen to get any of that nasty water in your mouth.
So, the CDC recommends that you avoid any pool or waterpark that smells too strongly of what you think of as chlorine, since that means that there’s a large amount of grossness in there. Of course, if you’re looking for a clean waterpark, you’re probably better off just wearing a full old timey diving suit. Of course, considering that the purpose of most theme parks is to thrill and scare you, maybe knowing the risk will make it that much better! A log flume is scary, but a log flume where you might drink some poop and then spend three days on the toilet praying for death is downright terrifying.