The environmental release and ecosystem risks of illicit drugs during Glastonbury Festival.

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Reported high drug use at music festivals coupled with factors such as public urination can lead to the direct release of illicit drugs into the environment. Glastonbury Festival 2019 had 203,000 attendees, its site is intercepted by the Whitelake River providing a direct route for illicit drug pollution into the local environment. We tested for popular illicit drugs such as cocaine and MDMA in the river upstream and downstream of the festival site as well as in the neighbouring Redlake River. Both rivers were sampled the weeks before, during and after the festival. Cocaine, benzoylecgonine and MDMA were found at all sample sites; concentrations, and mass loads (mass carried by the river per unit of time) were significantly higher in the Whitelake site, downstream of the festival. MDMA mass loads were 104 times greater downstream in comparison to upstream sites (1.1–61.0 mg/h vs 114.7 mg/h; p < .01). Cocaine and benzoylecgonine mass loads were also 40 times higher downstream of the festival (1.3–4.2 mg/h vs 50.4 mg/h; p < .01) (22.7–81.4 mg/h vs 854.6 mg/h; p < .01). MDMA reached its highest level during the weekend after the festival with a concentration of 322 ng/L. This concentration is deemed harmful to aquatic life using Risk Quotient assessment (RQ) and provides evidence of continuous release after the festival due to leaching of MDMA from the site. Cocaine and benzoylecgonine concentrations were not at levels deemed harmful to aquatic life according to RQ assessment yet were three times higher than MDMA concentrations. Redlake River experienced no significant changes (p > .05) in any illicit drug levels, further confirming that drug release was likely dependent on the festival site. The release of environmentally damaging levels of illicit drugs into Whitelake River during the period of Glastonbury Festival suggests an underreported potential source of environmental contamination from greenfield festival sites.


  • Illicit drugs, Environmental pollution, Music festivals, Cocaine, MDMA
Original languageEnglish
Article number112061
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue numberPart B
Early online date17 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

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