Air Quality at a Music Festival
Who doesn’t love good music festivals? Whether you like to relax the days away with friends and strangers or prefer to party hard under the stars, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
A cultural shift among the youths of today is making music festivals attendance a mainstream rite of passage. Students, young adults, parents pushing buggies while absorbing the second hand sense of freedom in the air, and people from all walks of life save their pennies and take just one or two weekends off a year to let their hair down and dance their socks off.
Admittedly festivals tend not to be the ideal time to make healthy decisions, and while we’ll leave it up to the party-goers to decide what beverages to put in their bellies, here’s some advice on how to protect your lungs.
Research has found that air-quality at music festival can be dismal; perhaps wearing a mask at a rave can be more practical than simply a fashion statement.
It’s unfortunate that music festivals don’t seem to be purveyors of green technologies.
Casting our minds back to the hippie filled audiences at some of the first music festival in history it seems that modern day festival-goers ought to embrace similar ideologies, like artistic experimentation and harmony with nature. That said, the cosmic life altering experience that was Woodstock 1969 turned an upstate New York field in to an epic, trash filled mud bath. After a costly clean-up bill running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, workers simply bulldozed tons of trash and debris into a pit and burned it. Sadly, it seems not much has changed. Anyone can attest that dance floors at the main stages of any large festival are completely covered in discarded plastic and aluminium containers.
Festivals don’t seem to be incentivised to present an environmentally safe space for you to party, so it’s up to you to look after your health.
A University of California San Fransisco article studying the adverse effects of these mammoth music events reveals “course” pollution poses the greatest risk to concert goers. That is, particles measuring between 2.5-10 micrometres, usually kicked up on dusty outdoor dance floors by armies of 20-somethings hopping up and down at the same time, as opposed to typical “fine” particulate pollution from vehicle exhausts or industries. It seems that when the beat is about to drop, dirty feet are also kicking up particles that could be hazardous to your health.
If you’re camped out onsite for a weekend full of shenanigans, it can soon feel like you’re living inside a giant dirty vacuum bag, especially if your tent is parked anywhere near a dirt road or track.
With certain festivals, dust just comes with the territory. In 2013, Coachella came to a close as a colossal windstorm kicked up dust from the surrounding Californian desert causing the Red Hot Chili Peppers to compare the experience to Lawrence of Arabia and the Dust Bowl.
Burning Man is possibly the ultimate music festival of our time. Located in the Black Rock Desert, die-hard partiers not only have to contend with scorching temperatures and dehydration, but toxic and disorienting dust storms present revellers with real respiratory risks. This desert dust, known as playa dust, is extremely fine, over half of the particles sampled in a recent study measured just 3 microns in diameter making it about three times finer than baby powder. Such tiny particles are easily kicked up with the slightest of breezes and can quickly find their way into delicate airways where the real problems start. These nasty particles have a powerful thirst for water and a rather horrid habit of turning to mud once inside the lungs. Immune systems employ eosinophils, a type of disease-fighting white blood cell, to attack the foreign matter detected in the body. However, in chronic cases, the eosinophils can clog the airways inadvertently blocking the body from taking in oxygen. This condition is known colloquially as “playa lung” and can be extremely uncomfortable, even fatal if left untreated, but the long-term health effects have yet to be studied. If that’s not scary enough, the alkaline nature of playa dust has approximate pH of 10, so constant exposure causes mild chemical burns to the soles of dancing feet.
Cigarette smoke is another toxic element that goes hand in hand with most music events.
For some it’s rebellion, for others it’s social anxiety or addiction – no matter what, you will likely have someone in or nearby your party who chain smokes. Assuming you are not the smoker in your squad and you want to protect your lungs from second-hand smoke, take the proper precautions. Remember, second hand smoke significantly decreases your lung function when attempting to exercise, so trying to dance your heart out to your favourite jam that just dropped in a dusty environment choking with second-hand smoke can be no bueno.
The most significant risk to your health at festivals may be via airborne diseases. New and old, bacterial and viral, exotic and domestic, all kinds of little diseases are flying through the air when a bunch of sweaty humans are gyrating in an ultra-tight space. Note the risks:
Yes, I said measles. Increasing numbers of parents are opting against vaccinating their children, and these children are growing up to see some underground, 3 pm side-stage bands when us sensible, old people just want to see Tiesto and take a nap. Unfortunately, it’s possible that we may find ourselves, scantily clad, dancing together, and sharing the same volume of breathable air. Measles is indeed airborne, and the UK government recently released a statement warning “young adults” of the dangers of measles just days before the famed 2016 Glastonbury Festival.
Norovirus: Trust us, you don’t want to get this. Norovirus can indeed go airborne, through vomit. Guess what one of the symptoms of norovirus is? And if you haven’t been to a music festival where you’ve observed projectile, explosive vomit covering the surface of the Earth, well you haven’t been to enough festivals.
The Flu: According to Time, a staggering 37 in 100,000 adults in the US have been hospitalised due to influenza, with over 30 children tragically dying over the past year. It has been one of the worst flu seasons for several years, and information flying around the airwaves and internet suggests that this year’s flu shot is only about 10% effective. The young and beautiful can sometimes somehow power through such a severe illness and still manage to listen to loud music while dancing for 12 hours straight. However, for the rest of us who have jobs, responsibilities and a healthy respect for our respiratory systems, you’ll need to wear a respirator to ensure there is enough of a barrier protecting your system from some seriously bad air.
Wearing face-masks at raves and festivals is a fashion statement for most, but one that your mother would be very proud to see. It’s a seriously sensible course of action if you want to party the hardest and the longest without damaging your lungs. Party on, people!