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How to Improve Air Quality for Swimmers

November 21, 2016

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The Cause of the Air Quality Problem at Swimming Pools

The air quality problem at swimming pools is caused by swimmers peeing in the pool.  (Chlorine reacts with urine to make chloramines: Urine has urea in it; Urea has two nitrogen atoms per molecule. Chlorine in the pool water chlorinates those nitrogen atoms.) But swimmers continue to pee in the pool because the news media glorifies this behavior.  The news media glorifies peeing in the pool because that content gets attention.

Below, I propose that we improve air quality by making two simple changes.  First, I ask athletes to take extra care in providing the media with quotes that can be used to glorify peeing in the pool.  Second, I ask the media to resist the urge to get cheap attention by publishing stories about our famous athletes peeing in the pool.

Here are just a few examples of how the "news" media treats the subject of peeing in the pool:

  1. SwimSwam published a video about how U.S. National Team Swimmers Tyler Clary, Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin, Jimmy Feigen, Cullen Jones, and Breeja Larson pee in the pool.
  2. Swimming World just published an article titled "In Defense of Peeing in the Pool." 
  3. The Huffington Post headlined an article about how Michael Phelps Pees in the pool.
  4. The Telegraph ran a headline about how "Michael Phelps admits: we do pee in the pool"
  5. CBS News echoed the same message in an article titled "Michael Phelps on peeing in the pool: Everybody does it"
  6. The Wall Street Journal followed suit: "Breaking News From Michael Phelps: ‘Everybody Pees in the Pool’"
  7. Ryan Lochte was quoted on advising swimmers that "it's ok to pee in the pool"

Notably, all of this "journalism" glorifies peeing in the pool. In doing so, these stories position our most famous swimmers as advocates for peeing in the pool. As a result, our sport's best athletes are unwittingly turned into our sport's worst role models.

How do we improve the air quality at swimming pools?  

The undisputed chemical answer is reducing the amount of nitrogen (e.g., urine) that gets into the pool. Practically, I think a simple step towards this goal would be changing the message that we're sending to young swimmers.  In particular, I think we should give swimmers a reason NOT to pee in the pool instead of a reason to continue peeing in the pool.

Changing the conversation about peeing in the pool could be easily accomplished with the cooperation of two groups of people: (A) Influential Swimmers and (B) the News Media.  Here's my simple request to each of those groups.

Influential Swimmers -- Please Advocate for NOT Peeing in the Pool.

Dear Influential Swimmers -- Please be advised that the news media has history of trolling for content about you peeing in the pool.  See above. This practice may seem to lack journalistic integrity. It may seem childish.  Nevertheless, please understand that today's news media is in the business of earning viewership by virtually any means necessary. Unfortunately, this means that the news media may be more interested in your peeing than your swimming.

Stories about you peeing in the pool get attention. So, the new media will seek out your quotes about peeing in the pool. When these quotes are published, you will be turned into an advocate for peeing in the pool.  Accordingly, you will literally be turned into an advocate for poisoning swimmers.

How can you prevent yourself from being turning into a poster child for bad behavior? Instead of providing quotes about peeing in the pool, please try the following: (1) refuse to give quotes about how you or your teammates pee in the pool; and (2) only make statements advocating for NOT peeing in the pool. For example, maybe say something like this: "I think it's really inconsiderate to pee in the pool because it compromises everyone's health."  Taking a little extra care with your statements on this topic will ensure that you are using your influence to make our sport healthier.

News Media -- Please Try to Publish Content that Advocates for NOT Peeing in the Pool.

Dear News Media -- Please stop glorifying swimmers' bad habits.  The experts all agree that peeing in the pool is the greatest threat to swimmers' health.  When you publish a quote from Michael Phelps saying that everyone pees in the pool, you send the message that this behavior is OK or even cool.  Publishing factually incorrect statements like "chlorine kills it" makes matters even worse.

Instead of glorifying swimmers' bad habits, please try to be a part of the solution.  For example, publish quotes about our famous athletes doing the right thing.  Rest assured, you will still get to use the word "pee" next to the name of a famous athlete. So, you should still get plenty of attention. 

Do you have other ideas?

Do you have feedback or other ideas about how we can teach swimmers the value of not peeing in the pool?  I'd love to hear from you.  You can post your comments below.



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