HELCOM countries report significant progress in reducing pollution to the Baltic Sea
Helsinki, 23 February (HELCOM Information Service) – The HELCOM Member States are reporting significant progress towards the targets set out in the strategic Baltic Sea Action Plan to radically reduce pollution to the sea and restore its good ecological status by 2021.
According to the most recent national data, contained in the National Implementation Programmes, which each HELCOM Member State has adopted to achieve the targets of the action plan, several countries have undertaken successful measures to decrease excessive inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus - two nutrients which are responsible for the continued degradation of the marine environment. They mainly originate from inadequately treated sewage, agricultural run-off and airborne emissions from shipping, and are responsible for oxygen–depleting algae blooms, murky waters and dead sea beds, a phenomena known as eutrophication.
For example, Poland reports that the country has already achieved a 50% reduction in nitrogen inputs and a 35% reduction in phosphorus inputs, as compared to the Polish reduction target set in the Baltic Sea Action Plan. Russia has indicated that with the upgrade of major wastewater treatment plants in St. Petersburg the reduction will supersede the Russian target for the Gulf of Finland, although Russia will not fulfil the quotas for the Baltic Proper even when it has built the new wastewater treatment plant in the city of Kaliningrad. Additionally, Denmark stated that it has all the necessary measures in place to fulfil the quotas. By implementing its pollution reduction measures Sweden will also be close to reaching its targets. And Finland reported that the country has plans for a quite high reduction within the agricultural sector.
HELCOM has estimated that for good environmental status to be achieved, the maximum allowable annual nutrient pollution inputs into the Baltic Sea would be 21,000 tonnes of phosphorus and about 600,000 tonnes of nitrogen. Over the period 1997-2003, average annual inputs amounted to 36,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 737,000 tonnes of nitrogen, therefore, annual reductions of some 15,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 135,000 tonnes of nitrogen would be required to achieve the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan’s crucial “clear water” objective.
In order to diminish nutrient inputs to the Baltic Sea to the maximum allowable levels, the HELCOM countries have agreed to take actions not later than 2016 to reduce nutrient loads in waterborne and airborne inputs aiming to reach good ecological and environmental status by 2021. The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan duly proposes provisional country-wise annual nutrient input reduction targets for both nitrogen and phosphorus. It also sets maximum allowable inputs for sub-regions of the sea.
“If the latest numbers from the coastal countries are reliable and confirmed, we will soon achieve 50% of the Baltic Sea Action Plan targets,” says Anne Christine Brusendorff, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. “There is still a lot to do, and we have many challenges ahead, but anyway I think what we see is a very positive development.”
Current progress in the national implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan will be reviewed at the upcoming annual HELCOM Meeting in March, which will include a Ministerial-level segment. The latest information shows that there are a lot of good on-going activities in the Baltic Sea countries. It also shows that many of the promising initiatives have potential to be replicated to other countries and they could benefit from a further discussion to identify cost-effective activities/projects that could be of interest for other countries and international financiers. This is especially the case for the Eutrophication and Maritime Activities Segments of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan, partly for the Biodiversity Segment, whereas the Hazardous Substances Segment has shown to be the most difficult in terms of implementation.
Today, all countries, which did not earlier have effective treatment plants according to HELCOM Recommendation 28/E5 and, where relevant, the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC), are in the process of building or upgrading their wastewater treatment plants. This has already resulted in an increase of connectivity to urban wastewater treatment and overall 20% more efficient wastewater treatment, resulting in reduction of nutrient inputs and improved sanitation. When all the work has been completed, it will result in a high reduction of the pollution of nutrients to the Baltic Sea by 2016 and for some plants at a slightly later stage.
Practical work and investments to upgrade port reception facilities (PRF) for sewage are either on-going or are about to be started in major cruise and ferry ports around the Baltic Sea. A multi-stakeholder initiative under HELCOM, the Co-operation Platform on PRF, will facilitate dialogue and co-ordination among national administrations, ports and passenger shipping industry. Availability of adequate reception facilities for sewage is a pre-condition for the Baltic Sea to become a Special Area for sewage discharges from passenger ships under the international maritime legislation.
In most countries industry is no longer the main nutrient polluter. Some of the countries have anyhow given figures showing that there will be a further decrease in pollution from the industry sector. In the Eastern Baltic countries industrial pollution load can still pose problems if industries are connected to municipal sewers without necessary pre-treatment.
For most of the sub-basins in the Baltic Sea a majority of the anthropogenic nutrient inputs originate in the agricultural sector. A number of countries have provided a lot of information concerning different measures to reduce nutrient losses, covering practices of manure handling and application of mineral fertilisers, restoration or use of wetlands for trapping nutrient inputs, use of agri-environment schemes, buffer zones, catch crops and feeding guidelines. Some countries have already demonstrated substantial reduction of nitrogen inputs into the Baltic Sea due to extensive measures addressing nutrient losses from agriculture.
Most of the countries have informed of measures/plans to substitute phosphorus in detergents. Some countries have already a ban in place and others have voluntary agreements for household laundry and dishwashing agents. The rest are planning to substitute phosphorus in laundry detergents by 2015. In addition, the European Commission has proposed legislation to ban phosphorus in detergents by 2013.
Media advisory: Senior environment officials of the Baltic Sea countries to hold a joint press conference in Helsinki http://www.helcom.fi/press_office/news_helcom/en_GB/Media_advisory_Press_Conf_HELCOM_2011/
Note to Editors:
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of all the nine Baltic Sea countries and the EU which works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," known as the Helsinki Convention.
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Nikolay Vlasov
Tel: +358 (0)46 8509196
Fax: +358 (0)207 412 645