Drug users at Glastonbury Festival are responsible for poisoning local wildlife, a new study finds.
Traces of illegal drugs ecstasy (MDMA) and cocaine in the urine of drug-using festival-goers have leaked into a river on the spot, the Bangor University authors said.
The problem stems from the fact that drug users relieve themselves against a tree or bush or on the grass on the site, rather than using the festival toilets.
For the study, samples were taken from the Whitelake River before, during and after the last Glastonbury Festival in 2019, both upstream and downstream of the festival site.
They found that ecstasy concentrations had quadrupled in the week after the festival, but traces of the drug are present in the river year-round, indicating that it has accumulated in the soil around the site.
Cocaine concentrations, meanwhile, rose to levels known to affect the life cycle of the rare European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a protected species.
Researchers found that during the festival, levels of MDMA and cocaine in the water were so high that it could harm wildlife further downstream, including rare populations of eel. The last Glastonbury festival was held in 2019 – but it will return in 2022
Dan Aberg, a master’s student at the School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, worked with Dr. Daniel Chaplin of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB) to collect the samples.
GLASTONBURY: ‘PLUS DON’T PISS ON THE LAND’
Glastonbury Festival itself has already warned visitors not to urinate on the ground prior to the previous events.
Peeing on the ground at Glastonbury causes toxic groundwater pollution,” reads the official festival website.
“The groundwater flows into the central Whitelake River and miles down the valley. Wildlife and fish are affected as 135,000 revelers pee everywhere.
‘The Environment Agency tests the water regularly and has the authority to close the site if too many people have urinated and polluted the site.
“There are thousands of toilets on site and we recommend that you use them. Environmental health students check the toilets twice a day and cleaners and other staff are on hand 24/7 to keep them functional.’
“Illegal drug contamination through public urination happens at every music festival,” Aberg says.
‘The extent of release is unknown, but festivals are undoubtedly an annual source of illicit drug release.
“Unfortunately, the proximity to a river at the Glastonbury Festival means that any medicines released by festival visitors have little time to break down in the soil before entering the fragile freshwater ecosystem.”
Aberg said there is no way to definitively trace the drugs found to festival visitors, although the spike in traces after the festival leaves little doubt.
“The Whitelake River basin is dominated by the festival site, so it serves as the most likely source,” Aberg said.
The cocaine concentrations found, at levels shown to cause endocrine disruption in European eels, may delay sexual maturation, reducing the breeding rate, he added.
Ecstasy has meanwhile been found in concentrations that cause serious environmental damage.
“The ecological analysis I did actually showed that the concentrations are high enough to cause 50 percent inhibition of a function, such as the growth rate in Daphnia,” Aberg said.
“Daphnias are model organisms, so they serve as an example of the effects of a pollutant, so if it affects daphnia, it probably affects other organisms in the ecosystem as well.”
Glastonbury Festival had already advised its visitors not to urinate on the floor in 2019, in the form of signs scattered around the site – but the new study suggests these were largely ignored.
Samples have been taken from the Whitelake River, which runs through the Glastonbury Festival grounds
A Glastonbury Festival spokesperson said: ‘Protecting our local streams and wildlife is of the utmost importance to us at Glastonbury Festival and we have a thorough and successful sampling regime for waterways during each festival as agreed with the Environment Agency.
“The Environment Agency has not expressed any concerns after Glastonbury 2019.”
“We are aware that the biggest threat to our waterways – and the wildlife they habitat for – comes from festival-goers urinating on land.
‘We have worked hard on this in recent years through a number of campaigns, with measurable success.
‘We will continue to strongly advise against urinating on land at future festivals. We also do not condone the use of illegal drugs at Glastonbury.’
In 2020, the festival was canceled due to the coronavirus and this year it was held as an online live-streamed only event.
However, revelers will be allowed back onto the site for Glastonbury Festival 2022, which will be held from June 22 to 26.
Pictured, a sign at Glastonbury Festival 2019 advising visitors not to pee on the floor
Both the study authors and festival organizers are now urging people to use proper toilets.
The researchers also propose environmentally friendly methods of handling human waste, such as engineered treatment wetlands (CTWs).
CTWs are artificially created wetlands specifically designed for wastewater treatment.
Information about the harmful effects of urinating in public should be provided to festival visitors to reduce pollution of natural resources, the team adds.
“Our biggest concern is environmental impact,” said study author Dr. Christian Dunn of Bangor University.
This study identifies that drugs are released at levels high enough to disrupt the life cycle of the European eel, which could derail conservation efforts to protect this endangered species.
“Education is essential to environmental issues, just as people have been made aware of the problems of plastic pollution.
Glastonbury has made great efforts to become plastic-free, [but] we also need to raise awareness about drug and pharmaceutical waste – it’s a hidden, disturbingly understudied but potentially devastating polluter.’
FISH IN RURAL UK WATERWAYS CONTAIN COCAINE AND KETAMINE: RESEARCH 2019
Fish in UK waterways contain cocaine, ketamine, methamphetamine, pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs, a 2019 study found.
Scientists from Kings College working with the University of Suffolk collected water samples from 15 sites in five rivers around Suffolk.
The authors said “surprisingly” that they found cocaine in every single sample — while the party drug ketamine and other drugs were also found in freshwater shrimp.
dr. Leon Barron of King’s College London said: ‘Such a regular occurrence of illegal drugs in wildlife was surprising.
“We might expect these in urban areas like London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments.
“The presence of pesticides that have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge, as their sources remain unclear.”
Different substances were detected in all 56 – and the drug of abuse, cocaine, was most commonly found along with lidocaine.
Lidocaine is used legally as a topical anesthetic in dentistry, but is also often illegally used to ‘cut’ cocaine as it causes a numbness in the gums, similar to cocaine, making users think they are getting cocaine, which has a similar effect .
Lead author, Dr. Thomas Miller of King’s College London said: ‘While concentrations were low, we were able to identify compounds that may be of environmental and critical importance, which may pose a risk to wildlife.’