Estonia makes good progress in cleaning up Baltic

Estonia is gaining control over its worst pollution hotspots that drain into the Baltic Sea, but needs a further EUR30 million (£19 million) in order to clear up its remaining problem areas, according to a major marine environmental body.

At a regional review meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), it was announced that Estonia has managed to restore most of the 13 environmental hotspots identified in 1992.

Until recently, huge amounts of sewage and toxic industrial wastewater were being released into the sea, according to HELCOM. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990’s, the country’s economy was at rock-bottom, Ulrich Kremser, Co-ordinator of HELCOM’s Programme Implementation Task Force (PITF) told edie, from which point the country had to change its techniques and attitudes, a process which has also been assisted by the country’s attempts to access the European Union. By the end of this year, HELCOM expects there to be only five Estonian pollution hotspots remaining, with a further two to be removed from the list shortly afterwards.

Three hotspots, however, are still of concern, and, says HELCOM, will require considerable funding in order to turn them around. The troublesome three, says the organisation, are the pulp and paper industry in Kehra, the wastewater treatment plant of Kohtla Järve, and the Narva power plant. The power plant, for example, is one of the largest oil shale fired thermal power stations in the world, emitting 166,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and more than 153,000 tonnes of solid particles per year, and requires total modernisation, says HELCOM.

The extra money is required mostly for wastewater treatment, and will be in addition to the EUR45 million (£29 million) which has already been invested by the Estonian public sector, as well as loans from international finance organisations and bilateral development contributions. Although it is expected that some of the new funding will also come from international finance organisations such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), 75% will have to come from domestic sources, says Kremser. Göte Svenson, Chairman of the PITF, also advises the use of public private partnerships and to hand over more responsibility to the municipalities.

Another source of pollution which remains of concern in Estonia is from the agricultural sector. Nutrient inputs and pesticide residues are still impairing the Baltic Sea ecosystem, although the consumption of mineral fertilisers has been reduced significantly over the last decade from 147,000 tonnes in 1989 to 35,000 tonnes in 1998. This reduction, says Kremser, is in part due to the economic crisis in Estonia, which means that a recovery in the economy could result in another rise in pollution, he said.

Estonia is the third Baltic Sea state to be visited by the HELCOM PITF, with Lithuania and Latvia previously being found to exhibit similar positive environmental progress. Later on this year, regional hotspot check-ups will also take place in Kalingrad, St Petersburg, and Krakow. HELCOM PITF has been monitoring a total of 132 hotspots around the Baltic Sea, a number of which have been sufficiently remedied to allow them to be removed from the list.

Hotspots are classified by HELCOM as ‘municipal’ hotspots, which exhibit characteristics such as high discharges of industrial hazardous substances or chlorine, from wastewater treatment plants, or leaking sewer systems, which significantly effect the marine ecosystem functioning; and as ‘industrial’ hotspots, where facilities emit high levels of hazardous substances, organic matter, salt or oil, or where facilities cause soil contamination which results in the same effects.

HELCOM has also recently stressed concern over the increasing risk of pollution incidents from ships in the Baltic Sea (see related story).

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