Major UK festival resulted in drug-laced urine threatening rare eels

Researchers with Bangor University in Wales report that high concentrations of illegal drugs, including MDMA and cocaine, found in a river threatened wildlife in southwestern England. What caused the drugs to appear in this river? It runs through Somerset close to where the Glastonbury Festival was held — and, more to the point, where partygoers were urinating in public.

Big festivals offer toilet facilities, of course, but when it comes to large crowds, long lines, and public intoxication...well, many people opt to use nature instead. That's a problem for the local wildlife, according to the researchers, because some drugs pass from the festival-goers' urine into the environment, polluting the local water source and threatening the wildlife that comes into contact with it.

In this particular case, the situation is direr — the drugs may impact the lives of rare eels located downstream. The researchers investigated the level of drugs found in the river near the festival site before the Glastonbury Festival was held, as well as again during the festival and, finally, after it was over.

The measurements took place in 2019, as the in-person festival was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers found that cocaine and especially MDMA concentrations increased a week after the festival concluded, indicating there was a long-term release effect that could threaten the lifecycle of these protected eels.

The researchers note that this drug contamination isn't unique to that particular festival, though in this case, the close proximity to the river makes it particularly harmful to wildlife that lives downstream. Fortunately, there's a very simple solution to this: festival-goers can make sure they use only the official toilets provided by an event's organizers.