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“Dangerous” levels of MDMA and cocaine found in Glastonbury Festival river

Researchers found high levels of MDMA and cocaine in the water of Whitelake River

Fans in a live crowd put their hands in their air on a blue sky day
Glastonbury Festival (Picture: Alamy)

Researchers working at Glastonbury Festival have found high levels of cocaine and MDMA in the river running through the site, days after the event ended.

The contamination levels were so high that researchers found they could affect the lifecycles of eels living further downstream from the site. Scientists are now urging festival-goers to use the official toilets provided, as it’s thought that the illegal drugs entered the rivers and waterways because of public urination.

European eels are a protected species, and concentrations of cocaine, in particular, rose to levels known to affect their lifecycle.

Research at the site was carried out by 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).

They took measurements before, during and after the festival in 2019. Samples were taken up and downstream from the site, in the Whitelake River. MDMA concentrations quadrupled in the week after the festival finished. Researchers suggest this is showing a long-term release of drugs from the event site.

Mr Aberg said: “Illicit drug contamination from public urination happens at every music festival. The level of release is unknown, but festivals undoubtedly are an annual source of illicit drug release.”

He continued: “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.”

A spokesman for Glastonbury Festival 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 festivalgoers 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.”

They added: “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.”

Dr Christian Dunn, from Bangor University, said: “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, potentially derailing conservation efforts to protect this endangered species.

“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 – it is a hidden, worryingly-understudied yet potentially devastating pollutant.”