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California’s SnowGlobe to settle benzene lawsuit

MTV’s Snowglobe Music Festival has reached an agreement with an environmental non-profit organisation that initiated court proceedings against organisers over the amount of benzene – a toxic hydrocarbon – produced by the event.

Founded by Chad Donnelly in 2010, SnowGlobe is a 20,000-capacity festival taking place over the new year’s period in South Lake Tahoe, California, each year. MTV acquired the festival in 2018.

Following the 2018 edition of the event, which saw performances from Diplo, Eric Prydz and Gorgon City, US non-profit organisation the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) raised concerns that the use of “a variety of diesel-powered items” at the festival was producing high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.

The CEH found that the levels of benzene emitted by the festival exceeded the level set by California’s Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. In January 2019, the organisation served SnowGlobe with a 60-day notice of violation of the act, later filing a lawsuit against the festival at the end of last year.

A SnowGlobe representative tells IQ that a lack of proper signage warning about benzene levels “ultimately triggered the claim” by the CEH.

“SnowGlobe disputes that the 2018 Festival operations released ‘significant amounts’ of benzene, as CEH alleged, or any amount of benzene above California’s highly conservative ‘safe harbor’ [sic] levels,” continues SnowGlobe’s statement.

“SnowGlobe also disputes that CEH used a valid method for determining benzene exposures at the 2018 festival. In 2019, as a precautionary measure to avoid further litigation, SnowGlobe posted warning signs. Because of SnowGlobe’s commitment to the environment and to avoid litigation with this environmental group, it has entered into a settlement with CEH regarding the Proposition 65 warning sign requirements.

“Our long-term goal for SnowGlobe is to transition into a completely sustainable event”

“Our long-term goal for SnowGlobe is to transition into a completely sustainable event – an ambition inspired both by the South Lake Tahoe community’s culture of environmentalism and our team’s personal belief in the importance of conscientious and ethical event planning. We’re happy to report that with guidance from the amazing team at Waste Free Earth, we’ve made significant steps year over year towards reaching our goal.”

SnowGlobe is now working in conjunction with the CEH, looking into alternative ways to power the festival, such as using biodiesel and connecting electric power to the site. A motion for a consent judgement – in which two parties resolve a dispute without admission of guilt –  has now been filed.

“Many music festivals use a variety of diesel-powered items including the generators and buses and trucks,” CEH senior scientist Caroline Cox told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

“We were really focusing on the reproductive harm [from benzene] because the typical audience at a music festival is younger people, so there are a lot of young women that either could be pregnant or want to get pregnant so we’re concerned about protecting those people.”

A court date for the consent judgement will take place on 17 March.

A 2019 report found that festivals in the UK alone use 380 million litres of diesel a year, mostly through the use of diesel-powered generators.

The sustainability of live music events will be discussed at the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) on Tuesday 3 March, presented by A Greener Festival and the International Live Music Conference. Tickets to the event are available here.


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