Glastonbury River Was So Full of MDMA and Cocaine It Could Harm Wildlife

Festival attendees are being urged to change their urination habits after scientists found that damaging traces of drugs were making their way into nearby waterways.

Glastonbury Festival is one of the U.K.'s biggest and most popular music events, attracting more than 200,000 people in 2019.

That same year, scientists from Bangor University in Wales decided to investigate how the water quality of nearby rivers changed by measuring them before, during, and after the festival, both upstream and downstream of the festival site. Two waterways, the Whitelake and Redlake rivers, run by the site.

Often, illicit drugs make their way into music festivals, so the researchers decided to test for drug pollution into the local environment. Specifically, they tested for popular drugs such as cocaine, benzoylecgonine, and MDMA.

The Redlake measurements did not detect any significant changes. But the researchers found notable traces of all three drugs at the Whitelake site, and levels were significantly higher downstream of the festival than they were upstream of it.

The research team believes drug pollution is making its way into the water via festival-goers' public urination.

Levels of MDMA, in particular, were found to be high enough to be classed as harmful to aquatic life. Traces were found at levels 104 times greater downstream than upstream.

The same drug was found to have reached its highest level on the weekend after the festival, suggesting that it continues to leach from the festival site even after the event has concluded.

Cocaine, as well, was found at levels that are known to affect the lifecycle of European eels, a protected species, according to a Bangor University press release outlining the study.

The drug was found at levels 40 times higher downstream of the festival site than upstream.

Dan Aberg from the university's School of Natural Sciences took part in the study. He said in the press release that "illicit drug contamination from public urination happens at every music festival," but added that because Glastonbury is so close to a river, these drugs do not have time to degrade in the soil before they reach the water.

Christian Dunn, a zoology lecturer at Bangor who led the study, said the team's "main concern" was the environmental impact of the drugs and their potential to disrupt wildlife.

He said in the press release: "Education is essential for environmental issues, just as people have been made aware of the problems of plastic pollution, and Glastonbury have made great efforts to become plastic-free; we also need to raise awareness around drug and pharmaceutical waste—they are hidden yet potentially devastating pollutants."

The scientists say information on the harmful effects of public urination should be provided to attendees and that festival-goers should use official toilets provided by the organizers.

In a statement to Newsweek, Glastonbury's organizers 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. 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 sestival-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."

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research on September 17.

This article was updated at 4:17 a.m. on 9/29/21 to include a statement from Glastonbury Festival.

glastonbury festival crowd,
A crowd is pictured in front of the Pyramid Stage at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival on June 28, 2019. Scientists have found that drugs from the event are making their way into nearby waters. Matt Cardy/Getty Images