Glastonbury festival refuses 'golden opportunity' drugs test on sewage

By ex-junkie · Jun 24, 2011 · ·
  1. ex-junkie
    Wastewater analysis project to detect legal highs and illicit drugs is turned down by festival founder Michael Eavis as 'a cheek'

    Glastonbury 2011 toilets. The festival has refused a project to test wastewater for illicit drugs and legal highs. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

    Glastonbury festival has vetoed the first major attempt to test the use of legal highs and illicit drugs at a British festival by sampling sewage.

    The exercise to be carried by analytical toxicologists had the backing of the police and involved the use of the emerging science of "wastewater analysis", which can detect even very low concentrations of illicit drugs in liquids.

    Dr John Ramsey of St George's medical school, University of London, who has spent months planning the project, said he was disappointed by the decision.

    "It would have been a golden opportunity to test the technology and find out the actual levels of the use of 'legal highs' and new psychoactive compounds," he said.

    He said that Glastonbury, with its ethos that "British law applies, but the rules of society are a little bit different, a little bit freer" provided the ideal demographic.

    Festival's founder Michael Eavis said in a statement: "The drug culture these days has changed beyond belief. What a cheek to even suggest there's a problem."

    More than 100,000 revellers had passed through the gates of the 900-acre site, by near the Somerset village of Pilton, by midday on Thursday.

    They arrived, as usual, dragging tents, sleeping bags, flags and crates of food through mud.

    Almost a fortnight of intermittent rain has turned most of the fields into a blanket of sludge, and tractors have already begun distributing emergency bails of straw to absorb the water.

    This year, though, Glastonbury has the weather forecasters on its side; while some rain is predicted for Friday, most of the weekend should be warm and dry.

    Protesters have revealed that U2's set will be interrupted by an "unmissable" protest against its alleged "tax dodge". The direct action group Art Uncut is plotting a "visual spectacular" during the band's show on the Pyramid stage, which is believed to involve a giant inflatable.

    In total 150,000 will stomp through Worthy Farm during the three-day festival to watch headliners including U2, Coldplay and Beyoncé.

    When nature calls, they will be forced to use one of the notorious 4,600 portable toilets – some no more than metal boxes with a single open tank.

    All the festival sewage gets tipped into a huge container and then fed out slowly into the local sewage works over the next few weeks. This gives the toxicologists the opportunity to sample the "wastewater" without having to tackle the problem of sampling the output of thousands of onsite portable toilets. It also ensures the process is totally anonymous.

    "We can only do it if there is a central sewage system," said Ramsey, who carried out a similar project at a festival in Antwerp. "The joy of Glastonbury is that they have their own plumbing."

    He said that with the government poised to introduce a new "temporary banning system" to counter new legal highs, it was important to establish what people were actually using.

    Ramsey, whose company Tictac's database provides the police and others with a visual identification of drugs and new substances, said "wastewater analysis" was becoming established across Europe.

    The monitoring exercise can only be done if there was a large number of people and they could only identify drugs that appear in urine in the first place and remain stable in sewage. Among the candidates that qualify are mephedrone, ketamine, BZP and mCPP.

    Avon and Somerset police say the notion that they turn a blind eye to drug use at the festival is a "myth", and that those caught in possession face prosecution and eviction from the site.

    But recreational drug-taking is rife, and the fleet of conspicuous undercover police officers only arrest a tiny fraction of people under the influence.

    By Thursday morning, there had been just 37 arrests.

    The news that festival organisers had halted the plan to test sewage for drugs prompted a mixed reaction among the hordes arriving at the site.

    Some conspiracy theorists worried – unjustifiably – that their own drug-taking could be traced through DNA analysis, while others questioned the scientific rigour of sample analysis.

    Gareth Jones, 37, from Brighton, who said his drug use had steadily declined since his first festival, in 1996, said there were various "cultures" across the festival. "What they find would depend on where exactly in the festival they test," he said. "If you test up at the stone circle it would probably blow off the scale."

    The new technique for monitoring drugs has been used on a small scale in studies of cocaine and amphetamine use in London and south Wales.

    A recent major project in Paris taking 24-hour samples over a week confirmed a weekend spike in cocaine use in the French capital. In another case the sewage output from a prison was analysed.

    But it does not always work well. A study in Spain in 2007 established a small village north of Barcelona as the European capital cocaine consumption, but the elderly villagers were relieved to discover that it was due to faulty sampling methods at the local sewage treatment works.

    23 June 2011

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  1. Killa Weigha
    Oh, their parents would be so proud, though, wouldn't they?
    "Hey, whatcha doing this weekend"?
    "Oh, sifting through shit, piss, blood, tampons and other sorts of nastiness to spy on my contemporaries? And, you, Mum"?
  2. Guttz
    It's a shame they don't allow this research. The results would be highly interesting and would give the public a very clear picture of how much use actually goes on. I believe the numbers that go around most of the time are much much lower then what actually is going on. The UN saying that 4.8% of the world population used drugs in the past year is a number that is just way to low in my opinion. It's not realistic if you compare it to the value of the market.

    Researches like these would prove to be extremely valuable in every aspect in my opinion, shame they won't allow it.
  3. Alfa
    Wastewater research should be done globally for every city. This would rapidly change the national drug use statistics. Waste water research consistently results in drug use statistics that are more than 16 times higher than the drug use figures currently used.

    Its understandable that Glastonbury festival is not up for these tests,because the rest of the country has not been tested yet. This means that the current drug use statistics are not realistic and when that would be compared to real drug use statistics from Glastonbury festival, the deviation would be extreme and would seem outrageous. It could certainly backfire.

    I really think that this is the reason why waste water research has not taken off yet. The first areas that are tested, will temporarily seem like areas with extreme drug use.
  4. kailey_elise
    Wait a minute there! You mean...drug use goes UP on the weekends? When most people are not at work & have leisure time? Get outta town! No way! :rolleyes: :crazy
    How can that be said with any sort of conviction, when all areas haven't been tested in the same manner yet?
    Bah ha ha ha ha! Ah, fantastic. :) How confusing it must have been at first, wondering how & when these elderly people were getting their cocaine & how and when they were consuming these large amounts of cocaine. *LOL* Maybe that's the town all the 'Granny Porn' is made? Huge orgies of cocaine-fueled senior citizens... ;)


    Oops, forgot to add: I think doing drug analysis on a festival's waste water would be VERY interesting; since the reason they wanted to do it at Glastonbury was because it had it's own central pipe to the sewer, I don't think the results would get lumped in with any future studies on Glastonbury in general.

    However, if they see just how much drugs are being consumed (vs how much they confiscate), there's a chance they might increase their police presence even more. What if they use the results to try to hold the festival 'owners' accountable for all the drug use inside, making the addition of "security checks" for everyone on their way in a distinct possibility? All that kind of stuff, once it's shown *JUST* how rampant drug use is at festivals. I don't think it would change anyone's perspective, because they'd just write it off as a bunch of loser junkies going to a festival. Now, doing these kinds of tests on quaint little towns that people think are perfect...that I think could change some perceptions, when they discover just how much drug consumption goes on...
  5. corvardus
    I can fully understand why they would refuse to have them perform the tests on the revellers. This year it would be wastewater. Next year, when they have the data to prove that cannabis, cocaine, BZP, Mephedrone and god knows what else is in the water that the police is justified in ramping up the numbers of enforcement officers on site than what they do.

    Whilst scientifically interesting I rather suspect that the data obtained from such a festival would essentially make it prohibitive for any drug taking to go on at a festival whether legal or illegal, which is kind of defeating the purpose of these festivals and one could argue Glastonbury in the first place.

    If the authorities would use the data for health protection purposes in other words providing training and adequate concentrations of medicines for counteracting any overdose, as an example, then I would be all for it. My cynical, yet justified side, is telling me that they would use it as a tool in the prohibitionists' box, with harm mitigation being a distant second.
  6. corvardus
    Then to ban the 0.02% of the population from going to festivals by banning them outright. Such a minority of individuals going to a festival are easy picking for the rest of the hostile population, and this type of research would be very useful in justifying just that.

    It is, indeed, valuable. The question that needs to be asked is valuable to whom and with that information in hand what would they do with it?
  7. alienesseINspace
    I would definitely not allow waste water analysis as the founder of a festival. If a high percent of the waste has some sort of drug in it, the festival's reputation and ability to continue may be in danger. I also believe this kind of testing would be beyond inaccurate. People from all over the world travel to England for this festival. Also, who can prove that dirty urine is the result of using drugs at the festival itself? Bobbie Sue might have done 4 rails of coke the day before the festival and none the day of.

    If I wanted to go to a festival and knew the waste water was being sold for a profit, I would probably bring my own lil' poo/pee bucket. Naturally, 100,000 people not using a proper toilet in a confined area for days would be a very very bad thing.
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