Experts sustain: nutrient loading into the Baltic Sea significantly reduced
2011, HELCOM Information Service - Progress is already significant on the path to a healthier Baltic Sea, according to HELCOM experts who gathered in Helsinki late last week to follow-up national progress towards reaching nutrient reduction targets. This is mainly due to improved waste water treatment in the Baltic, caused by the joint efforts of HELCOM member states, consisting of all the nine countries around the Baltic Sea.
“Our findings have shown us that there is great potential for further reductions in the waste water sector. Implementing the more stringent requirements in the HELCOM Recommendations would eventually make us closer to the overall nutrient reduction targets, especially for phosphorus and to a lesser extent for nitrogen, which are required to achieve a healthy Baltic Sea”, says Lars M. Svendsen, Chairman of the HELCOM LOAD Group.
From 1970 up to 2008 the overall phosphorus loads into the Baltic Sea have been cut by about a half, which can be considered a great achievement. Since 1994 the HELCOM member states have annually reported their loads to the Baltic Sea and in between 1994 and 2008 only, the overall reduction was almost 20 percent. For nitrogen the overall input has decreased as well albeit less significantly. The main reason behind this good progress is improved municipal and industrial waste water treatment in HELCOM countries. Deposition of nitrogen to the Baltic Sea has declined by one third since 1980 as a result of decreased nitrogen emissions.
For instance, the phosphorus load from the City of St. Petersburg has decreased by 1500 tons (70%) since 2004, which corresponds to almost 30% reduction in the whole annual phosphorus load into the Gulf of Finland. In Poland, major investments have been carried out in the wastewater treatment sector, where sewage treatment is now available to much more people than in previous years. In addition, existing treatment facilities have been improved and only three upgraded major plants have meant that sewage from more than three million Polish citizens is now better cleansed. In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania similar improvements have taken place leading to the deletion of for instance the Riga, Kaunas and Klaipeda wastewater treatments plants from the HELCOM List of Hot Spots.
The nitrogen inputs have not decreased as swiftly as those of phosphorus. Between 2004 and 2008 the levels actually seems slightly increased, possibly as a result of increased agricultural activities. Hence for nitrogen, further reductions are most closely linked to agricultural sector and also to airborne emissions.
In order to reach the nutrient reduction targets in the Baltic Sea Action Plan, and reach a good environmental status for the Baltic Sea, further reductions are needed. For this a full implementation of the HELCOM Recommendations on waste water treatment and the above mentioned measures is crucial, with a focus on stricter measures to reduce agricultural inputs such as changes in manure handling and fertilization.
5th Baltic Sea Pollution Load Compilation (PLC-5):
HELCOM regularly produces a Pollution Load Compilation which assesses the data collected by HELCOM members on total waterborne loads of nutrients and some hazardous substances to the Baltic Sea. Fifth Baltic Sea Pollution Load Compilation (PLC-5) contains data on inputs of contaminants to the Baltic Sea for the period of 2000-2006, with additional data on total waterborne nutrient inputs till 2008.
Eutrophication and the Baltic Sea:
The effects of nutrient enrichment, also known as eutrophication, are perhaps the single greatest threat to the Baltic Sea environment. The main sources of excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus are inadequately treated waste waters, agriculture, and airborne emissions, including the shipping sector.
The manifestations of a large-scale eutrophication problem are well known in most parts of the Baltic Sea. These findings have already contributed significantly to actions and measures taken, such as the adoption of the stricter HELCOM requirements for waste water treatment, including stricter requirements for phosphorus discharges from smaller municipalities as well as maximum application rates for manure.
Note to Editors:
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), is an intergovernmental organisation of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Community working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.
HELCOM is the governing body of the ‘Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area’, more commonly known as the Helsinki Convention.
For further information, please contact:
Lars M. Svendsen
Chairman, HELCOM LOAD Group
National Centre for Environment and Energy (NERI)
Tel: +45 21220420
HELCOM PLC-5 Project Manager
Finnish Environment Institute - SYKE
Tel. +358 40 760 9232
Tel: +358 46 850 9195
Fax: +358 207 412 645