The report, from the Finnish Environment Institute (FEI), showed that although most of the nine managed to cut phosphorus discharges from point sources such as municipal and industrial wastewater by 50%, they had less success with nitrogen discharges.

Transitional countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Poland – were closer to the 50% target in 1995than the EU countries, a difference ascribed to “profound changes in [transition countries’] economies and political systems in the early 1990s”.

FEI noted: “There is still a great need and plenty scope for reductions in nutrient losses in the agricultural sector.”

The report is a summary of the work of a HELCOM (Helsinki Commission) project, which examined discharges and losses of the key nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – from 1987 to 1995 and predicted trends to 2005. HELCOM was set up to tackle marine pollution problems in the Baltic sea.

One of the report’s messages is that the municipalities and industries in the nine countries should be technically capable of meeting the 50% reduction target for nitrogen and phosphorus from point sources. It adds, however, that agriculture will face more difficulty in retaining its nutrients. The report uses a so-called ‘source-orientated’ approach, that is, loading the figures for point and diffuse sources.

The lack of progress for diffuse sources is ascribed to the soil being saturated with phosphorus from the intensive use of fertilisers over a long period. Progress will only be visible, the report predicts, after a long time lag. Figures show that all the transition countries except Poland had actually achieved the required 50% reduction in agriculture nutrient loading.

Broken down, the results show that for point sources Denmark achieved a 53% reduction in Nitrates and a 75% reduction in Phosphates; Finland 6% and 48%; Sweden 8% and 48%; Germany 46% and 80%; Poland 24% and 23%; Estonia 75% and 59%; Latvia 66% and 42%; Lithuania 39% and 58%; Russia 35% and 42%.

For agriculture the figures were: Denmark 32% and 13%; Finland 19% and 2%; Sweden 26% and 8%; Germany 26% and a 7% increase; Poland 30% and 10%; Estonia 58% and 31%; Latvia 49% and 50%; Lithuania 42% and 51%; Russia 71% and 59%.

The 50% reduction target was set in 1988, as worries grew about an increase in the size and number of algal blooms in the sea, and consequent oxygen depletion in lower waters. The declaration of the environment ministers at the 1998 HELCOM meeting recognised that the challenges in the Baltic Sea region were both economic and institutional.

At that time, the ministers declared their firm intention to “make further provision for reducing discharges from point sources, such as industrial installations and urban waste water treatment plants, of toxic and persistent substances, nutrients, heavy metals and hydrocarbons, by construction and operation of installations and equipment in conformity with the best available techniques”.

The Ministers added: “In this context it is noted that actions concerning non-point sources will also be needed. In order to fulfil these objectives, current and new efforts on reduction of the load of pollutants should aim at a substantive reduction of the substances most harmful to the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea, especially of heavy metals and toxic or persistent organic substances, and nutrients. For example, in the order of 50% of the total of each of them, as soon as possible but not later than 1995.”

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