Mine waste and agriculture continue to pose pollution problems in Baltic

By the end of 2002, two metal smelters in Finland and Sweden previously considered as pollution hot spots in the Baltic region, are expected to be given the all clear on emissions, but after ten years of pollution control measures in the region, mine waste and agricultural hot spots remain significant sources of pollution, according to the latest progress report by the Helsinki Commission, HELCOM.

A total of 132 environmental hot spots around the Baltic Sea were designated in 1992 under the Baltic Sea Joint Comprehensive Environmental Action Programme (JCP) implemented by HELCOM. Over the past ten years, water quality has improved considerably in many coastal waters of the Baltic, says HELCOM, reflecting progress in the treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater. More than 26 of the original 132 hot spots have been deleted from the list, and the two smelters at Outokumpu in Finland and Boliden/Rönnskär in Sweden, with Stockholm’s sewage system and Finnish fish farms in the Archipelago and the Åland Sea, are the latest four close to losing their designation.

In a recent assessment of conditions at 22 Finnish and Swedish hot spots, it was noted that the fish farming area now meets HELCOM’s recommendations for fish farms. However, the farms give rise to local eutrophication problems, and are currently the main source of nutrients in that area.

Helsinki’s wastewater treatment plant could also be removed from the hot spots list within the next few years, since further investment is now in place to improve the efficiency of nitrogen-removal. The successful clean-up of 11 former hotspots was also noted, including 10 pulp and paper plants in Finland and Sweden, and one Finnish chemical plant (Kemira Pigments Oy).

However, the mine wastes at the historic Swedish mining town of Falun continue to pose problems. HELCOM recognises that the waste heaps form an important part of the cultural setting, but pollution levels from the 100 year old mine workings are similar to those discharged by the entire Swedish pulp and paper industry. A major restoration programme is due to be completed in 2006, at a cost of 100 million Swedish crowns (€11 million).

Agricultural hot spots – Bornholm Basin, The Sound, Laholm Bight and the Archipelago Sea – remain the most significant source of pollution by nutrients. In Sweden, agriculture accounts for an estimated 40% of all the nitrogen from man-made sources entering the Baltic Sea.

The most recent estimates for cleaning up the hotspots, (Annual Report 1999) were: €7,495 million (1992: €9,425 million), with “allocated reserves” of €1,462 million and “remaining investment” costs of €6,034 million.

Wild Baltic salmon populations are growing, however HELCOM warned that their future will be dependent on ensuring commercial fish farming is developed in a sustainable manner (see related story).

The Helsinki Commission works to protect the Baltic marine environment from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental co-operation between Denmark, Estonia, the European Community, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Information about the location of individual hot spots, emissions and investments is available at BOING’s interactive map.

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