CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

How Much Pee in a Pool is Too Much Pee?

Original image
ThinkStock

Last week, a study by Chinese and American scientists revealed another reason to not pee in pools, which had more to do with chemistry than good manners. 

The researchers found that when urine and chlorine meet in the right quantities, they can create two byproducts, trichloramine and cyanogen chloride. The latter can be harmful to the lungs, heart, and nervous system. It’s nothing to get your bathing suit in a bunch over, though. Even with chlorine levels far beyond what’s used in the average swimming pool, the amounts of these chemicals produced in the study were still in the World Health Organization’s “safe” range. In other words, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself emptying your bladder during a swim. That said, the study still warned that the chemical could “adversely affect air and water quality” in and around the pool. Plus, it’s just gross. 

At Ars Technica, the research made editor Casey Johnston wonder just how much pee in a pool it would take to make a harmful amount of those chemicals. And after some number crunching, Johnston found that creating a death pool of pee is a pretty tall order.

To get enough chlorine and uric acid together to create a toxic level of cyanogen chloride in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Johnston says you’d need three million people emptying an entire day’s worth of highly concentrated urine into water that’s more chlorinated than normal. 

“If you could get at that pool without dying of either suffocation or drowning in other people’s urine,” she writes, “you could probably pull off death by cyanogen chloride poisoning or at least a pretty good coma.”

Even in this pretty unrealistic situation, there’s a snag. Even at high concentrations, the researchers who did the study found that a lot of their chlorine was consumed by the uric acid. So really, you’d need an even higher chlorine concentration—a whopping half a liter of chlorine per liter of water—to create enough cyanogen chloride.

“In the end we need a pool that is two parts water to one part chlorine and would probably burn the eyeballs out of your sockets and make your skin peel away from your bones,” says Johnston. Get three million people to pee into that, without crushing each other or melting away like Nazis opening the Ark of the Covenant, and you’ve got enough cyanogen chloride to kill (also, the world’s worst pool party).

You can read Johnston’s whole thought experiment here

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Is Soda Measured in Liters?
Original image
iStock

Never a nation to fall in line, America is one of the few countries to resist the metric system. We stubbornly measure distance in miles and weight in pounds. So what’s with those two-liter bottles of soda?

First, a clarification: Soda is far from the only substance we measure in metric units. Heck, it’s not even the only beverage. Wine, liquor, and bottled water are sold by the milliliter. The healthcare field is all about metric units, too, from cholesterol levels to prescription, over-the-counter, and supplement dosages. We run 5-kilometer races, ride on 215-millimeter tires, and use 8-millimeter cameras, or at least we used to.

In most other things, we determinedly cling to our imperial measurements. Attempts to convince Americans to join the rest of the metric-measuring world have been met with great resistance.

Ken Butcher of the National Institute of Science and Technology has been working with the government’s tiny Metric Program for years. Speaking to Mental Floss back in 2013, Butcher explained that we’re so entrenched in our way of doing things that switching measurement systems now would be both chaotic and expensive.

"If we were going to start a new country all with the metric system, it would be easy," he said. "But when you have to go in and change almost everything that touches people’s everyday life and their physical and mental experience, their education, and then you take that away from them—it can be scary."

Here and there, though, when it’s convenient, we have been willing to budge. The soda bottle is a good example. Until 1970, all soft drinks in the U.S. were sold in fluid ounces and gallons, mostly in glass bottles. Then the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle came along, and soft drink makers decided it was time for a product redesign.

The redesign process coincided with two key factors: a short-lived wave of government interest in going metric, and the burgeoning environmental movement.

The folks at PepsiCo decided to meld all three into its exciting new vessel: a lightweight, cheap, recyclable, metric bottle, with built-in fins so it could stand up on supermarket shelves. Two liters: the soda size of the future.

The two-liter bottle took off. The rest of the soft drink world had no choice but to get on board. And voila: liters of cola for all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
Original image
iStock

The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios