Introducing the Baltic Sea: Our common sea, Birgitta Boström, Sweden’s sectretary of state for the environment, says that “despite 25 years of co-operation among the riparian states, the sensitive Baltic is still in serious ecological danger”.

There is both good and bad news on the subject of pollutant levels entering the Baltic. On the positive side, work on reducing major point source pollution from the 132 ‘hot spots’ identified in 1992 is bearing fruit. 17 have been taken off the hot spot list, although new ones will be added as criteria for inclusion on the list is amended. Of the remaining 115 hot spots, 80 are undergoing environmental improvements. For instance, a wastewater treatment plant in St Petersburg – currently the largest individual source – will offer huge improvements.

But nutrient loads are not coming down as quickly as the countries signed up to the Helsinki Commission (Helcom) would like. ‘Slow response’ from the agricultural sector is blamed for the nutrients problem. With EU accession planned for several Eastern European countries bordering the Baltic, the Swedish EPA admits that it is worried that nutrient levels entering the Baltic will rise. “Swedish scientists are concerned that EU agricultural subsidies take no account of the problem of increased leaching of nutrients into rivers and streams from land that is taken out of production,” states an EnviroReport article. “They fear that nutrient inputs to the Baltic will rise substantially if the many small farms in Poland and the Baltic states are forced to withdraw land from production.”

Although shipping is increasing in the Baltic, the Swedish EPA is hopeful that new reception facilities for oil in all Baltic Sea ports and a policy of ‘no extra charge’ for ships discharging oil at the facilities will reduce substantially the number of illegal discharges currently taking place (see related story).

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