Guns N’ Roses is the headliner at this year’s Austin City Limits festival. But armed with swabs, we tested public places at the famed music festival and found that E. coli and Fecal Coliforms made an appearance, too. Musical festivals are supposed to be fun events for the public, and while they provide great entertainment, they often host dangerous bacteria as well. There are many different types of bacterial groups found here, both harmless and harmful, and it’s essential to be aware of which ones you are exposing yourself to. 

E. coli, Fecal Bacteria at Austin City Limits Festival
Test siteE coli found?Fecal contamination found?
Portapotty 1YesYes
Portapotty 2YesYes
Scooter 1No No
Scooter 2NoNo
Stage front rail 1NoNo
Stage front rail 2NoYes
Picnic table 1NoYes
Picnic table 2NoYes
Cellphone charger 1NoYes
Cellphone charger 2NoYes
Source: LawnStarter.com collected bacterial swab tests from 10 locations at the Austin City Limits music festival during weekend 1, Oct. 4-6 2019.

Total Coliforms, which were found on almost every swabbed surface as the festival, are bacteria that live in human and animal intestines. While they are relatively harmless, they carry a specific subgroup called Fecal Coliform that can indicate the presence of other bacteria found in fecal matter. The leading member of this subgroup is called Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli). While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some can make you extremely ill with symptoms of diarrhea, UTIs, respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, etc. It’s essential to be aware of the dangers of E. coli, and unfortunately, it’s much more common than you think.

Lizzo performs at ACL
Lizzo drew a massive crowd to her Oct. 6, 2019, performance at Austin City Limits music festival.

E. coli aren’t just found in intestines, but often in the environment and food as well. Festivals such as Austin City Limits (ACL) aren’t immune to E. coli contamination, and with weekend two quickly approaching, it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Founded in 2002, the Austin City Limits Festival takes place at Zilker Park and draws in about 450,000 attendees every year. This year, we decided to swab some of the most common areas of the festival grounds to test for bacteria levels such as E. coli, fecal coliform, and total coliform.

It should come as no surprise that the portapotties were the most contaminated areas at the festival with E. coli present, meaning that Fecal Coliforms and Total coliforms were as well. Most areas swabbed had some bacteria present; picnic tables, phone charging stations, and the front rail of the main stage were swabbed and tested positive for Fecal Coliforms and Total Coliforms. The cleanest part of the festival happened to be the electric scooters out front. They only came up positive for Total Coliforms

Dr Amesh adalja
Dr. Amesh Adalja

After uncovering our findings, we spoke with Dr. Amesh Adalja, FIDSA, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center Health Security, and infectious disease physician about the dangers of coliforms. When asked why festivals are as dirty as they are and what we can do about it, he replied, “Festivals bring together people from varied geographic locations where they may have close contact with one another— this can facilitate disease transmission… Basic hygiene, including handwashing, is the only real way for an individual to minimize risk. Festival organizers can have hand washing stations, ample bathroom facilities, and well-maintained food stations as well.” Music festivals can make for great times and good memories. remember to bring some hand sanitizer and watch where you touch because it very well may be covered in fecal matter.

To find out more about our report, click on the link below.

EMLabs P&K lab results from Austin City Limits swabbing locations

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