September 2, 2013

Cornell Students Lament Cancellation of Electric Zoo Festival

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Cornell students were among the thousands of concertgoers who, after gathering to attend this weekend’s Electric Zoo festival in New York City, were sent home a day early when two concert-goers died.

Electric Zoo, also known as “Ezoo,” is a three-day festival that features a variety of electronic dance music artists. The final day of the festival was cancelled when Jeffrey Russ, 23, a recent graduate of Syracuse University, and Olivia Rotondo, 20, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, both died allegedly due to complications with MDMA drug use.

In a statement explaining the city’s decision to cancel the last day of Electric Zoo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that “during the first two days of the Electric Zoo music festival, two concert-goers have died, and at least four others became critically ill and have been placed in intensive care at area hospitals.” He added that although “definitive causes of death have not yet been determined … both [deaths] appear to have involved [ecstasy].”

Brittany Coard ’14 said Sunday’s events, which were set to begin at 11 a.m., were cancelled as late as 9 a.m. that day.

The deaths and cancellation came as a surprise to the attendees, who felt that the concert management made the health of concertgoers a priority.

Rommia White ’15 said that, throughout the festival, she saw people alerting festival officials when someone seemed to be ill.

“I know someone who tried to take a nap, and immediately, they had emergency people all over them,” White said.

Coard said the festival’s organizers had also created several checkpoints and stations for attendees to rest at.

“They [had] different health points in between the stages and free refill stations,” Coard said.

Despite the precautions that festival organizers took, Bloomberg said there was no option but to cancel Sunday’s events.

“The Electric Zoo organizers have worked with city officials to reduce health risks at this event, but in view of these [deaths and injuries], the safest course is to cancel the remaining day of the event,” the statement said.

White said that, although the cancellation was initially disappointing, she and other attendees respected the city’s decision to cut Electric Zoo short.

“I think that it was reasonable — they were having more casualties than any other festivals. You have to shut it down out of respect for the families and for safety reasons,” White said.

The use of drugs at music festivals and other events is on the rise, professors say. In particular, there has been a “skyrocketing” use of ecstasy among college students, according to Prof. Ronald Harris-Warrick, who teaches “Drugs and the Brain” in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and has lectured on MDMA and its effects.

MDMA poses a particular danger to drug-users at outdoor music festivals, according to Harris-Warrick.

“The most obvious problem with ecstasy overdoses is hyperthermia. Ecstasy blocks normal regulation of body temperature and if the user is very active, which is likely during a concert, this can lead to a big jump in temperature,” Harris-Warrick said.

Ecstasy can raise body temperatures as high as 108 degrees, which can lead to liver and kidney failure, strokes and muscle breakdown. “That is the most likely reason that these people died,” Harris-Warrick said.

Harris-Warrick added that, at a hot outdoor concert, when people are dancing and working up a sweat, the risk of hyperthermia during an ecstasy trip can be high.

People are so worried about hyperthermia that they drink way too much water and die as a result of drinking too much, he said.

Original Author: Erica Augenstein