If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Sweetener can track pee in the pool

Because swimmers excrete acesulfame K intact, the chemical could serve as a marker of how much urine is in swimming pools and hot tubs

by Celia Henry Arnaud
March 13, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 11

Credit: Shutterstock
Photo of people in a swimming pool and a structure of the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium.
Credit: Shutterstock

Researchers estimate that swimming pools contain 30 to 80 mL of urine for each person who’s jumped in. The problem, aside from the ick factor, is that urine reacts with chemical disinfectants in the water to form potentially harmful by-products. To track the safety of pools and hot tubs, scientists would like to find a chemical marker of how much urine is actually in the water. Xing-Fang Li and coworkers at the University of Alberta propose that the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium—used in products such as beverages and baked goods, often in combination with other sweeteners—could be that marker. Humans don’t metabolize the sweetener, so it’s excreted intact in urine. Li and coworkers used liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry to measure acesulfame in 250 samples from 31 pools and hot tubs in two Canadian cities. They also sampled the corresponding input tap water for comparison (Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00043). The team found the sweetener in all pool and hot-tub samples at concentrations from 30 to 7,110 ng/L, compared with 15 ng/L or less in the tap water samples. Using the average amount of acesulfame in a human urine sample, the researchers then estimated that urine can account for up to 30 L of the volume in a standard 420,000-L community pool. The ubiquity of acesulfame suggests that it could indeed be used as a urinary marker for tracking water quality, the researchers note.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.