If there’s one thing humans can’t help but do, it’s pee in the ocean: According to a recent survey by Procter & Gamble (which makes a popular brand of toilet paper), 62 percent of people admit to it. The rest, we can only assume, are liars.
While this might sound like a human-made environmental catastrophe — or, at the very least, a surprise golden shower on unwitting halibut — it’s actually completely okay. As the American Chemical Society video below explains, human urine is more than 95 percent water, and its sodium and chloride content poses no threat at all to either seawater or the plants and animals that live in it. (Sodium and chloride, by the way, are the components that make up table salt.)
Think about it like this: The animals that inhabit the ocean also pee in it, much more frequently and, in many cases, in much larger quantities than we do. According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, sei whales produce about 166 gallons of urine per day, while fin whales produce about 257 gallons. Compared to those numbers, the amount of pee we humans leave in the ocean barely adds up to a dribble.
Also consider this fact put forth by Stuart Jones, biochemist in the department of clinical biochemistry at King George Hospital. He claims that even if everybody in the world were to urinate in the Atlantic Ocean all at the same time, the ratio of urea (the predominant waste product found in urine) to ocean would be 60 parts per trillion. “Urine is harmless stuff in the first place and is diluted to the point of insignificance within minutes,” Jones told science writer Lauren Wolf in 2013. “There are far more harmful things in the ocean to worry about.” (This, of course, assumes that we’re dealing with fresh pee — which is sterile — and not the dumped contents of a bacteria-filled sewage plant.)
We feel obligated to mention that this notion does not also apply to pools. According to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, uric acid — which is found in human urine — combines with chlorine (the disinfectant found in most pools) to create two irritating compounds: Cyanogen chloride and trichloramine. Evidence shows that both compounds can contribute to respiratory problems and skin irritation in pool-goers.
So the moral of the story is simple: If you’re in the sea, let out that pee. If you’re in the pool… Dang, what the heck man, there’s a bathroom right over there!