What to know about Burning Man mud

Sep 5, 2023, 10:53 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2023, 6:48 pm

A unicyclist rides past a pyramid on the playa during Burning Man at Black Rock Desert in Nevada, w...

FILE: A unicyclist rides past a pyramid on the playa during Burning Man at Black Rock Desert in Nevada. (Andy Barron, Reno Gazette-Journal)

(Andy Barron, Reno Gazette-Journal)

BLACK ROCK CITY, Nevada — Those who don’t attend music festivals may not have had any reason to wonder about the mud created this weekend by monsoon moisture at the Burning Man Festival in northern Nevada.

But now they might have questions, after seeing all those concert-goers walking around either in shoes caked with layer after layer of tan sediment or, walking around with bare feet in puddles of water and tan sediment.

So let’s address that.

Is the mud at Burning Man toxic?

According to the USU Extension, soil is alkaline if it has a pH value above 7.0. The range extends to 14.0.


(United States Geological Survey)

So, the mud under the burner’s feet at the end of Burning Man 2023 had a pH level that is over 7. It was alkaline.

But was it toxic?

Alkaline soil can be toxic. To plants. For humans, it can create “playa foot,” or a chemical burn. The organizers of Burning Man describe this as uncomfortable, but not toxic. 

What may be more dangerous is “playa lung” which is a reflection of poor air quality at the Burning Man festival. One of the naturally occurring aspects of the Black Rock Playa is dust storms and sometimes severe dust storms.

So if it’s not wet and clinging to their feet in the form of mud, the alkaline soil can and does blow around hampering bike chains, staining vehicles, and entering your lungs. 

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, air quality tests performed during the Burning Man festival in 2017 found “that the air quality at Burning Man during the peak days of the event is atrocious, far exceeding national air quality standards all days during the event and during many of the days leading up to it, when staff, volunteers and artists are on-site.”

That’s why you’ll see festival attendees wearing goggles, masks, and scarves.

FILE: People drum on a percussion junk pile despite a blinding dust storm caused by strong winds at the 15th annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. (David McNew /Newsmakers)

Other reading: Burning Man organizers lift driving ban after heavy rains left the event smothered in mud



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What to know about Burning Man mud