Sweetener can track pee in the pool | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 7, 2017

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
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Materials SCENE
Keywords: water, artificial sweeteners, swimming pools, urine
Credit: Shutterstock
Photo of people sitting at edge of pool with legs in water
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 pee is actually in the water. Xing-Fang Li and coworkers at the University of Alberta propose that the artificial sweetener acesulfame K—used in products such as beverages and baked goods, often in combination with other sweeteners—could be that marker. Humans don’t metabolize it, so it’s excreted intact in urine. Li and coworkers used liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry to measure acesulfame K in 250 samples from 31 pools and hot tubs in two Canadian cities. They also measured the corresponding input tap water (Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00043). The team found the sweetener in all pool and tub samples at concentrations that ranged from 30 ng/L to 7,110 ng/L, compared with 15 ng/L or less in tap water samples. Using the average amount of acesulfame K in a human urine sample, the researchers then estimated that urine can make up 30 of the liters in a standard 420,000-L, 25-m-long community pool. The ubiquity of acesulfame K suggests that it could indeed be used as a urinary marker for tracking water quality in pools and hot tubs, the researchers note.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
sean dunaj (March 8, 2017 5:54 PM)
This is an interesting read bc earlier this year, I learned of a chemist at FIU using the markers to detect sewage leaks/seeps/leaching that have seeped into the coastal line (ocean) of South beach (miami) using this marker. He is still collecting the data, but I am assuming a swimming pool or hot tub is a smaller area to experiment in, just ahead of the data findings, from Florida.
Celia Arnaud (March 13, 2017 7:20 AM)
The interest in pools is that there have been mixed findings on the health effects of disinfection by-products on swimmers, especially elite athletes. Peeing in the pool is actually part of that culture, and urine has been shown to be a major source of DBP precursors.
Al Holstein (March 8, 2017 7:08 PM)
While I find the concept interesting, I wonder how representative the average human urine sample compares with the average swimmer. The people that are swimming and peeing the pool may not be the same population that is eating sweetened foods to the same extent as the general population. Just a thought to consider.
Giten Paul (March 8, 2017 7:54 PM)
Interesting; how about people not consuming this artificial sweetener peeing in the pools
John Stump (March 9, 2017 2:21 AM)
Why is there such a difference between typical tap water and pool water. Does this vary by tap water source? For example, Los Angeles and San Diego water is generally down stream effluent Colorado mix from Las Vegas.
Gaetan LeClair (March 9, 2017 7:25 AM)
can the sweetener be released via sweat too? that would "artificially" increase the results :)
Celia Arnaud (March 13, 2017 7:11 AM)
It probably can be released through sweat, but only the most elite athletes sweat that much when they're in the pool. I suspect that sweat would be a negligible contribution.
Michael A. Bobrik (March 9, 2017 4:56 PM)
Regarding the structure: double S=N bond, with zero charge on N, and single bond to O, with negative formal charge on O. Right?
Celia Arnaud (March 13, 2017 7:10 AM)
It's a single bond between the S and N. If you want to see the structure in CAS, the CAS number is 55589-62-3. We show it without the H on the N.
Sina Arghandeh (March 10, 2017 4:35 AM)
What kind of harmful by products ? And how harmful are they to human bodies? I barely heard anything about people got sick by swimming in a pool or hotub?
Celia Arnaud (March 13, 2017 7:16 AM)
By-products from disinfectants, especially chlorine-containing ones, reacting with organic material in the water. Urea in urine (and sweat) is a main precursor for trichloramine. If you want to read more, a story we ran last August goes into more detail. It's linked above.

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