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High levels of MDMA and cocaine in Glastonbury's water is impacting rare eels

Public urination on the festival site is believed to be the cause of river contamination

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 28 September 2021
High levels of MDMA and cocaine in Glastonbury's water is impacting rare eels

Research has shown that high levels of drug contamination in the river that runs through the site of Glastonbury Festival has been impacting the local wildlife in the area.

Dan Aberg, a Masters student at the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University and Dr Daniel Chaplin from the Centre for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB) measured levels of drugs found in the Whitelake River before, during, and after Glastonbury Festival 2019.

2019 was the last time that the festival took place due to pandemic restrictions.

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The researchers took samples both upstream and downstream of the site of the festival. They found that MDMA contamination quadrupled a week after the festival took place.

It is believed that public urination on site is what contaminated the river systems with drugs.

In addition to the MDMA, traces of cocaine were also found in the river.

Festival organisers told ITV that they have their own sampling regime agreed with the Environment Agency, who raised no concerns about the pre-pandemic event.

High levels of cocaine and MDMA in rivers can cause eels to experience muscle wastage, become hyperactive, and develop impaired gills and hormonal changes- according to previous research done on eels.

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Dan Aberg, of Bangor University’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “Illicit drug contamination from public urination happens at every music festival. Unfortunately, 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.”

Researchers have urged attendees at the festival to use the toilets provided on-site and to not urinate into the river or land as it can be damaging to local wildlife and ecosystems. They call for more information to be available to festival-goers about the dangers of public urination to local wildlife.

Read this next: Cocaine and ketamine have been found in Britain's river wildlife

The importance of this environmental issue has been raised by scientists. Dr Christian Dunn from Bangor University has described illicit drugs as a “potentially devastating pollutant” which is “worryingly understudied”.

In response to the new research, Glastonbury’s spokesperson described public urination as “the biggest threat to our waterways and the wildlife for which they provide a habitat”.

"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.

"There were no concerns raised by the Environment Agency following Glastonbury 2019.

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"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.

"This is something we have worked hard to reduce in recent years through a number of campaigns, with measurable success.

"Peeing on the land is something we will continue to strongly discourage at future festivals. We also do not condone the use of illegal drugs at Glastonbury.

"We are keen to see full details of this new research, and would be very happy to work with the researchers to understand their results and recommendations."

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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