Glastonbury Festival is based in the UK and is one of Europe’s largest music events.
New research has discovered that public urination at the Glastonbury Festival could be harming a local population of eels.
Festival-goers who have taken illegal substances pass those substances back out of their bodies when urinating, and if that’s done publicly aka not in the toilet facilities provided, then those chemicals can be transferred into local water systems.
There is a river running directly through the Glastonbury Festival music site which means that its quicker for the soil to drain into the river, meaning urine and other liquids have a shorter period of time to break down before being transmitted from the land into the local water system.
Glastonbury is also one of Europe’s biggest music festivals, and it attracts a population of people similar to that of a small city, so there is also a lot more bodily waste and litter, as a result of there simply being more people than there is at most other events.
Dan Aberg is a Masters student at the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University and Dr Daniel Chaplin is from the Centre for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB). Together they measured levels of drugs found in the Whitelake River running through the Glastonbury site before, during, and after the Festival in 2019. Their research found high levels of drug contamination in the river which they believe has negatively impacted some the local wildlife in the area.
2019 was the last time that the festival was able to go ahead due to the pandemic restrictions, so it’s not been possible for them to do further research since the initial study.
To conduct their study they took water samples both upstream and downstream of the festival site, and they found that MDMA contamination quadrupled a week after the festival took place. They believe this is largely down to public urination during the festival, and that contamination draining from the soil into the river over the course of a few weeks. MDMA was the main substance tested for, but they also found traces of cocaine in the river’s water.
In an interview with UK television channel ITV, Glastonbury Festival organisers said they have a sampling regime agreed with the Government’s Environment Agency, and that raised no pre-event concerns about potential water contamination linked to drug-taking or public urination.
Previous research done into the wellbeing and behaviour of eels found high levels of cocaine and MDMA in rivers makes the animal experience muscle wastage, become hyperactive, and develop impaired gills and hormonal changes.
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.”
The researchers have urged attendees of the festival to use the toilets provided on-site, and not urinate into the river or on the ground, as it could be damaging to the local wildlife and ecosystems. They are also calling for more information to be available to festival-goers, so people are better informed about the danger that public urination can be to local wildlife.
The importance of this environmental issue has been raised by scientist, Dr Christian Dunn from Bangor University who described illegal drugs as a “potentially devastating pollutant” that he feels is“worryingly understudied”.
In response to the new research, a spokesperson for Glastonbury Festival said public urination is “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.
“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.”