Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A special compound added to the water in swimming pools will reveal the presence of urine.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1994]
Origins: No matter what your parents told you, there isn't any magical chemical that when added to a swimming pool will reveal the presence of urine in the water. As "Alan" at the Aqua Clear web site says: "There is no chemical that can function as an indicator for urine in a pool." Others in the industry concur — this belief is all chimera and no substance.
Those in the pool supply business are routinely confronted with requests for the "urine-indicator dye" (as the mythical substance has come to be known). The belief in such a chemical spans the United States, Canada, and Spain, as does the juvenile certainty particular pools are spiked with it.
Experts on such matters say although a reliable dye could be produced, the trick would be getting it to react only to urine and not trigger in the presence of similar organic compounds likely present in swimming pools. It's not a compound anyone appears to be working on either, and with good reason — who'd want it? Kids are kids — their expected reaction to the news that pissing in the pool would produce bright purple or red trails would be to jump right in with the intent
Or, as one old-time Boston-area poolman put it, "If such chemicals did exist, every municipal pool in Boston would be bright purple." (A heartening thought, that. One could drown Barney, and the body wouldn't be found for days.)
Chalk this belief up as what it is: yet another sneaky parent trick meant to keep kids in check. A similar baseless rumor about naughty perpetrators being caught red-handed (so to speak) has to do with school fire alarms. A number of kids have heard these mechanisms are booby-trapped with a packet of red dye that will spray upon whoever pulls the lever, marking him as the one who did the deed. (Yes, dyes are sometimes used with fire alarms to help catch pranksters who take perverse delight in setting off false alarms, but those dyes have come into widespread use only fairly recently, and they are most commonly used as booby-traps set by investigators who have some idea who the perpetrator is or where he will strike next, not as a permanent feature of the alarms. Most kids who were told that all of their schools' fire alarms were set to mark anyone who triggered them with a special dye were being hoaxed with a bit of deterrent fiction.)
Barbara "colorful characters" Mikkelson
Sightings: Barbara Leaming's 1985 Orson Welles - A Biography claims Welles and his pal Charlie MacArthur pulled this prank on their friends and were rewarded with raspberry-colored clouds billowing in the water around the guilty swimmers. This supposedly happened around 1937. Also, in an episode of Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete & Pete ("Splashdown"), a substance called "Wee-Wee See" is used to catch a pool-peeing perpetrator.
Last updated: 14 December 2000
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