Russian coastal city needs $150 million to recover pollution hotspots

A Russian city on the coast of the Baltic Sea needs a further $150 million (£104 million) in order to clean up its worst pollution hotspots, although the pollution load has decreased by 20% over the last 10 years.

Wastewater treatment and drinking water quality are inadequate for about 500,000 residents of the city of Kaliningrad, situated in an enclave of Russia between Lithuania and Poland, formerly Northern East Prussia, according to the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), the organisation that assesses and monitors pollution being emitted into the Baltic Sea. Nearly half of the way into an action programme to clean up the region, none of the Kaliningrad’s nine worst pollution sources, including pulp mills, an oil terminal, and agricultural land, can be removed from the Commission’s list of pollution hotspots (see list and map of hotspots).

While around 160,000 cubic metres of wastewater are generated by the city every day, the pre-war treatment plant can only cope with 68,000 cubic metres, and the new treatment plant is not expected to be ready until 2005, says the Commission. In total, 150 million cubic metres of untreated industrial and municipal sewage, containing more than 30,000 tonnes of pollutants, are emitted into the regions rivers every year. In turn, this flows into the Vistula and Curonian lagoons which, together with adjoining wetlands, are also listed as pollution hotspots.

There is also inadequate storage or processing of toxic waste, with currently 6,000 tonnes of hazardous industrial waste deposited in temporary storage houses not designed for this purpose, contributing to the high risk of toxic substances leaking into the ground. The problem of how to deal with the problem of how to dispose of medical waste also has yet to be solved, says HELCOM.

However, with the support of international financial institutions, improvements have been occurring, including the development of wastewater treatment plants in the region, and the partial reconstruction of three hotspot pulp and paper mills. Nevertheless, says Göte Svenson, Chairman of HELCOM’s Programme Implementation Task Force, the current momentum for cleaning up the area needs to be kept up despite the difficult economic situation under which there is unlikely to be government money for commercial hotspots.

In other countries bordering the Baltic Sea, the programme to clean up pollution has been largely successful, with 22 of the original 132 hotspots being removed from the list since 1992 (see related story). In that time, the amount of phosphorus being released from all hotspots has decreased by a third, and nitrogen has been cut back by 25%.

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