Toxic traces of drugs found in river at site of Glastonbury festival

Environmentally damaging substances have been found in the river that runs through the Glastonbury Festival site, and scientists believe they are caused by copious amounts of drugs in festival goers' urine.

Toxic traces of drugs found in river at site of Glastonbury festival

Scientists warn of dangerously high levels of MDMA and cocaine that were found within the Whitelake River in Somerset, near the site of Glastonbury Festival. They believe that public urination is the cause of the contamination, and now urge those attending festivals to instead use toilets provided by the organisers. Researchers are worried that the toxic substances could derail the conservation efforts made to protect rare European eels that can be found in the area.

The researchers made measurements both upstream and downstream in 2019, and have found that MDMA concentrations quadrupled the week after the festival. They suggest that there is a long-term release from the site. A spokesperson for the festival stated that no one from the Environment Agency had raised any concerns with the organisers when the tests were conducted.

He said: “Protecting our local streams and wildlife is of paramount importance to us at Glastonbury Festival and we have a thorough and successful waterways sampling regime in place during each festival, as agreed with the Environment Agency. We are aware that the biggest threat to our waterways - and the wildlife for which they provide a habitat - comes from festival goers urinating on the land.” According to the spokesperson, the festival does not condone the use of illegal drugs and actively discourages public urination.

Dr Christian Dunn, from Bangor University highlighted the dangers of the substances on wildlife and the environment, saying: "Our main concern is the environmental impact. This study identifies that drugs are being released at levels high enough to disrupt the lifecycle of the European eel. We need to raise awareness around drug and pharmaceutical waste - it is a hidden, worryingly-understudied yet potentially devastating pollutant.”

Dan Aberg, a Masters student at the School of Natural Sciences in Bangor, also added: “Illicit drug contamination from public urination happens at every music festival. Glastonbury Festival’s close proximity to a river results in any drugs released by festival attendees having little time to degrade in the soil before entering the fragile freshwater ecosystem.”

Header Image Credit: "Toilets Glastonbury Festival (2011)" by whiper is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Ash Edmonds

Ash Edmonds Kickstart

A graduate of Music Journalism from BIMM Brighton – where he now lives – Ash has been writing about everything creative for the past few years. An avid audiophile, he spends a lot of his time searching streaming platforms, record stores and live shows trying to find his next musical obsession.

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