Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

HELCOM publishes reports on chemical contaminants

In a bid to better understand the effects of certain hazardous substances on the Baltic Sea, HELCOM, in collaboration with Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre, has compiled the latest science on selected chemical contaminants.

The results were published in four reports, namely on dioxins and PCBsbrominated flame retardantsPFOS and PFAS, and diclofenac.

“We must identify the major sources of the hazardous substances and understand how they move in the ecosystems to be able to do something about the problem,” said Emma Undeman, a researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the reports. 

The reports give insights into the sources and pathways to the sea of the addressed substances, as well as on how their concentrations have changed in the Baltic Sea over time.

Dioxins and PCBs, mainly by-products from industrial processes, primarily stem from atmospheric emissions, further persisting in the environment and accumulating in the food chain. This is a particular cause for concern since these substances are known for their adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems of living organisms.

The levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDE) – which are now either banned or regulated but were heavily used in the past as additives to prevent ignition and delay spread of fire such as in furniture and curtains – seem to be declining, but trends show that it could take up to 40 years for these contaminants to reach safe levels in the Baltic Sea.

With regard to PFOS and PFAS, used for instance in metal coatings such as Teflon or in firefighting foams, the main pathways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from contaminated sites via groundwater and drainage ditches. Research on PFOS in Baltic Sea biota further indicates that transport to the sea has dropped but that concentrations have not yet declined, pointing towards a high persistence in the marine environment.

Diclofenac, a widely used painkiller that is water soluble, mainly enters the sea through wastewater treatment plants which have a low removal rate of the drug. Despite good absorption by the human body when ingested, diclofenac is overused, leading to significant excretions reaching sewer systems. Some of the diclofenac in wastewater may also originate from dermal application which has a low absorption rate by the body. 

The four reports support the update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions for restoring good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment. The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.

Information from the reports will notably serve to evaluate the efficiency of currently implemented measures under the present BSAP, and for suggesting additional measures needed to improve the Baltic Sea’s state in regard to the reduction of concentrations of hazardous substances. 

Download the reports:

HELCOM body advocates smarter use of nutrients in agriculture to curb eutrophication

Smarter use of nutrients in agriculture will be key to curb eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, as was emphasized during the last meeting of the HELCOM Group on Sustainable Agricultural Practices (HELCOM Agri) that took place in Berlin, Germany from 5 to 6 November 2019.

Consisting of representatives from environmental and agricultural stakeholders such as national authorities, industry associations and NGOs, the HELCOM Agri group primarily aims at reducing the nutrient inputs from agriculture to the Baltic. Excessive nutrient concentrations in the sea remain the lead cause for eutrophication and toxic algal blooms.

The group is currently revising the Annex to the Helsinki Convention that sets legally binding requirements for sustainable practices of agricultural production for all Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention.

Growing ammonia emissions, regularly reported by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), and their subsequent deposition of nitrogen in the Baltic Sea are of particular scrutiny to the group as agriculture is the main source of emission of this gas.

The group compiled information on measures to reduce ammonia emissions which can be applied in agricultural practices, revealing that only a few of them have been implemented in almost all Baltic Sea countries.

“Ammonia emissions could be reduced through improved management of manure and better agricultural practices such as covering manure storage facilities, as well as injection and fast incorporation of manure to soils,” said Susanna Kaasinen, the project manager handling agriculture at HELCOM.

The group agreed that the currently valid HELCOM Recommendation on reduction of ammonia emissions is outdated, does not reflect modern state of scientific knowledge and is to be revised.

The group is also promoting smart nutrient management in the HELCOM countries by developing the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy with the aim to close nutrient loops, return these valuable components to the food production and minimize their losses to the aquatic environment.

To advance smart nutrient management – one of the pillars of sustainable agriculture – the group has drafted HELCOM Recommendation on the use of national manure standards. 

In Berlin, the Agri group also elected its new Chair, Ms Sari Luostarinen, a senior research scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

Read the outcome of the AGRI 8-2019 meeting

HELCOM Hot Spots: two Kaliningrad pollution sites get wiped off the list at key HELCOM meeting

​Two former pollution sites located in the Kaliningrad region in Russia were approved for removal from the HELCOM Hot Spot list by the HELCOM Heads of Delegation, one of the decision-making instances, during their last meeting held in Helsinki from 18 to 19 June 2019 – the 56th Meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation(HOD 56-2019).

The first site to be removed from the list is the Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant, or HELCOM Hot Spot No. 67. Newly constructed in December 2015, the upgraded wastewater treatment plant of Kaliningrad started to be fully operational by the end of 2016, with all of Kaliningrad’s sewage water redirected to the new plant. 

“The new treatment plant fully complies with the HELCOM recommendation on municipal wastewater,” said Natalia Tretiakova, the Russian Head of Delegation to HELCOM. With its population of 574,000 people, the city of Kaliningrad was the biggest source of untreated wastewater input to the Baltic Sea in the Kaliningrad region until the launch of the new plant. 

In the same meeting, the deletion of HELCOM Hot Spot No. 69, the Cepruss pulp and paper mill in Kaliningrad, Russia, was also approved. Cepruss was added to the list because of significant discharges of pollutants stemming from the processing of pulp and paper into the Pregolya river. The site ceased all production in 2011.  

Since 1992, HELCOM maintains a list of significant pollution sites around the Baltic Sea – the HELCOM Hot Spots. Today, about three quarters of all hotspots have been cleaned up. The most notorious Hot Spots are point sources such as municipal facilities and industrial plants, but the programme also covers pollution from agricultural areas and rural settlements, and sensitive areas such as coastal lagoons and wetlands where special environmental measures are needed. 

Furthermore, in Helsinki, the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan(BSAP) featured prominently on the meeting’s agenda, with the Heads of Delegation moving forward on the structure of the updated plan. Maintaining the same level of ambition for the updated BSAP was a particular point of emphasis.

HOD 56-2019 also adopted the revised HELCOM Recommendation 28E/13 on Introducing Economic Incentives as a Complement to Existing Regulations to Reduce Emissions from Ships. Where implemented already, economic instruments have proven to increase environmentally friendly shipping practices beyond the existing legislation. Some of these methods include differentiated port fees and fairway dues, differentiated taxation of marine fuels and on-shore power supply. 

The creation of an expert network on marine protected areas (MPAs) – HELCOM Network for Marine Protected Area Management (EN MPA MANET) – was also approved during the meeting in Helsinki. The new network will respond to the need for a concerted approach on the management of MPAs across the Baltic Sea region, especially for transboundary areas. It will provide expert input to HELCOM work related to MPA management, as well as conservation of habitats, biotopes and species in general, the relevant Ecological Objectives in the Baltic Sea Action Plan.

Bidding farewell to the current HELCOM Executive Secretary, Ms Monika Stankiewicz, who is due to leave the organization in July 2019, the Heads of Delegation singled out her excellent performance and acknowledged her instrumental role in lifting HELCOM to where it is today.

Stankiewicz has been at the HELCOM Secretariat since 2006 when she started as Professional Secretary for Maritime Affairs. She assumed the position of Executive Secretary in 2012 until 2019. She will be succeeded by Mr Rüdiger Strempel.

At PRESSURE 10-2019, the HELCOM group dealing with pressures on the Baltic Sea ploughs through nutrients, stormwater and microlitter

Nutrient reduction is central point of discussion at PRESSURE 10-2019.Kaliningrad city gets recommendation to be removed from HELCOM hotspot list because of reduction of nutrient inputs.

Expanded polystyrene will receive special attention from HELCOM. Nutrients, stormwater and microlitter were headlining the Tenth Meeting of HELCOM Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area (PRESSURE 10-2019) that was held in Tallinn from 9 to 12 April 2019.

High nutrient load from land-based sources – the central discussion point of PRESSURE 10-2019 – remains one of the largest pressures on the Baltic Sea, leading to eutrophication that causes growth of toxic algae and oxygen depletion.

At PRESSURE 10-2019, the delegates proposed to advance regional policy instruments to inspire additional efforts for minimizing this environmental pressure on the marine ecosystem. The proposals include further development of the and its follow up system, and of the HELCOM nutrient recycling strategy. will be key for curbing eutrophication.

Specifically, attention was directed to the effectiveness of implemented or planned measures to reduce nutrient load on the marine environment, as well as their sufficiency to achieve targets set by the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The delegates also agreed to intensify cooperation on nutrient reduction with river basin management authorities, for instance through workshops.

The alignment of nutrient reduction targets for river basins with the ones set for the marine environment was also foreseen as a tool for targeted measures to effectively decrease the nutrient load in the Baltic Sea.

The HELCOM delegates also welcomed the first official results from the newly commissioned waste water treatment plant in Kaliningrad. Two years of constant environmental monitoring showed that nutrient input to the Baltic Sea from the city of Kaliningrad was reduced by about 200 tonnes of phosphorus and 1200 tonnes of nitrogen annually.

Because of the improvement, the delegates of PRESSURE 10-2019 recommended to remove the Kaliningrad municipality from the HELCOM Hotspot list where it is currently listed.

“The HELCOM list of hot spots now stands a good chance to become shorter,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, the Professional Secretary handling nutrient related issues at HELCOM. On stormwater, PRESSURE 10-2019 agreed to revise the related HELCOM Recommendation and to open it to reflections on microlitter and resilience to climate change.

Further on marine litter, Denmark presented a comprehensive study on expanded polystyrene (EPS) which is a widespread litter item found in the Baltic Sea. The delegates subsequently agreed to start work on regional measures to deal with EPS litter.

On underwater noise, PRESSURE 10-2019 agreed on the structure of the Action Plan on Underwater Noise which will be elaborated by 2020. The plan will specifically look into keeping marine habitats undisturbed by underwater noise.PRESSURE 10-2019 was hosted by the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia in Tallinn, and was chaired by Lars Sonesten, Chair of the .

Nutrients, stormwater and microlitter were headlining the Tenth Meeting of HELCOM Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area (PRESSURE 10-2019) that was held in Tallinn from 9 to 12 April 2019.

At Interreg conference, HELCOM talks policy making, nutrient recycling and clean shipping

HELCOM shared its views on environmental policy making, nutrient recycling and clean shipping at the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme Conference that was held in Lübeck from 9 to 10 April 2019.Under the theme of , the conference presented the current accomplishments of the Interreg programme’s platforms and projects currently operating in the Baltic Sea region.The Interreg platforms and projects provide valuable scientific and technical underpinnings for HELCOM work. They also facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration, linking HELCOM to the private sector, local authorities and other Baltic Sea stakeholders.The outcomes of the platforms and projects will notably feed the beyond 2021, support the elaboration of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy by 2020, and contribute to overall policy making at HELCOM.HELCOM is involved in three Interreg platforms where it leads work packages related to policy implementation of the findings:: platform on nutrient recycling, where HELCOM is leading the work package “Policy recommendations for sustainable nutrient management and recycling”: platform management of smart sludge, storm and waste water, manure and energy efficiency, where HELCOM is leading the work package “Facilitation of the regional policy dialog on sustainable water management”, focussing on developing regional policy recommendations on nutrient recycling and hazardous substances.: platform on clean shipping in the Baltic Sea region, where HELCOM is leading the work related to drafting policy recommendations from the outputs of the different projects involved in the platform as well as developing an online dissemination tool to share information related to shipping in the BSRThe Interreg platforms group several Interreg projects with similar topics and objectives. Based on wider scope than the individual projects, the aim of the platforms is to facilitate the development of joint policy recommendations.In addition to the three platforms, HELCOM is also involved in seven Interreg projects.  The has four priorities, namely “Capacity for Innovation”, “Management of natural resources”, “Sustainable transport”, and “EU Strategy support”. Funded by the European Union, the programme backs integrated territorial development and cooperation, and is an agreement between EU member states Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the northern parts of Germany, as well as partner countries Norway, Belarus and the northwest regions of Russia.Over 300 participants from all around the Baltic Sea and beyond attended the conference that was held in Lübeck, Germany.

HELCOM shared its views on environmental policy making, nutrient recycling and clean shipping at the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme Conference that was held in Lübeck from 9 to 10 April 2019.

SuMaNu, a new regional project platform on nutrient management gets launched at HELCOM

SuMaNu partners meet in Helsinki from 23 to 24 October 2018 for the platform’s kick-off meeting.As part of the Baltic Sea region’s efforts to thwart eutrophication and its causes, the project platform “Sustainable manure and nutrient management for reduction of nutrient loss in the Baltic Sea Region” (SuMaNu) had its kick-off meeting at the HELCOM Secretariat in Helsinki from 23 to 24 October 2018.The  seeks to address excess nutrient loading – the main cause of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea – through more efficient management of nutrients, with a special focus on manure. A large share of the nutrient load in the Baltic Sea stems from agriculture. SuMaNu aims at promoting positive attitudes and best practices for a more efficient management of nutrients and the use of manure, notably to minimize leaks into watercourses and the Baltic Sea. The platform will gather and synthesize the best practices and recommendations on sustainable nutrient management from the existing projects of  (MS),  (BSA),  (GA) and  (PR). The intended beneficiaries of the project are national authorities and policy implementors such as agricultural and environmental ministries, regional policy makers such as HELCOM and EU bodies handling environmental matters, as well as farmers, farm advisors and other agricultural stakeholders.SuMaNu will build upon the results of previous manure-related projects, to provide holistic recommendations on nutrient and manure management, to ensure they are useful for both policy making and at the farm level.The results will also feed into the update process of the , HELCOM’s strategic tool for a healthy Baltic Sea. The outcomes will also support the elaboration of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy by 2020. Lead by the  (Luke), the partners of the platform are HELCOM, the  (BSAG), the  (ECRI), the  (ZSA), the , the  (CDR), the  (JKI), and the  (RISE).The  (Policy Areas Bioeconomy and Nutri), the  (CBSS) and the (ESPP) are associate partners.The project platform is co-financed by the EU’s .

As part of the Baltic Sea region’s efforts to thwart eutrophication and its causes, the platform “Sustainable manure and nutrient management for reduction of nutrient loss in the Baltic Sea Region” (SuMaNu) had its kick-off meeting at HELCOM.

HELCOM publishes reports on hazardous substances and input of nutrients to the Baltic Sea through the region biggest rivers

​HELCOM recently published two reports on hazardous substances and inputs of nutrients through the seven biggest rivers in the Baltic Sea region. The reports show the results from the  project that carries out pollution load assessment of the Baltic Sea from waterborne, diffuse and natural sources.”Both reports provide valuable information for assessing progress in reaching the HELCOM  (BSAP) reduction targets for hazardous substances and nutrients,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, the HELCOM Professional Secretary handling matters related to hazardous substances and nutrient inputs. The first report, , presents the findings on heavy metals cadmium, mercury and lead, as well as atmospheric deposition of selected organic pollutants, pharmaceutical residues, and persistent organic pollutants – chemicals that can’t biodegrade or take a long time to do so.According to the report, the inputs of heavy metals and organic pollutants are on the decline overall. On the other hand, pharmaceuticals and persistent organic pollutants are already causing apprehension, despite having been added only recently to the assessment.  released to the Baltic Sea through wastewater treatment could amount to 1800 tonnes per year. Some of these residues have already been detected in various compounds of the Baltic Sea ecosystem.Nonylphenols, octylphenols and PFOS – persistent organic pollutants which are mainly used for treating metals and textile products, and as flame retardants – were particularly identified as of high concern by the HELCOM countries. Some of these chemicals can disrupt the hormonal balance in living organisms. The second report published by HELCOM, , highlights the inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous to the sea from the Daugava, Gota, Nemunas, Neva, Oder, Tornio and Vistula. These rivers cover about half of the Baltic Sea catchment area. 55 million people inhabit this region, leading to high man-made, or anthropogenic, pressure. The nutrient loads are highest in the southern catchments, where population is densest and agricultural activity is intense.  According to , the riverine inputs of total nitrogen and total phosphorus contribute about 80 percent and over 90 percent to the total input of these nutrients respectively. The report emphasizes the importance of measures in upstream parts of river basins, including transboundary parts, to reduce nutrient loads and achieve the environmental targets set by the .Over-supply of nitrogen and phosphorous remains the lead cause for  and the growth of algae in the Baltic Sea.Download the reports: (.pdf) (.pdf)

HELCOM recently published two reports on hazardous substances and inputs of nutrients through the seven biggest rivers in the Baltic Sea region. The reports show the results from the HELCOM Pollution Load Compilation (PLC) project.

HELCOM group meets in Riga to address land-based pollution and pressures on the Baltic Sea

The  met in Riga, Latvia from 10 to 12 October 2018 to tackle matters related to land-based pollution of the Baltic Sea, during the Ninth Meeting of the Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area ().The  (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic tool for a healthy Baltic Sea, was a major item on the agenda, with the group discussing a work plan for an update beyond its current end in 2021. As part of the BSAP update process, PRESSURE 9-2018 consented to review over a hundred HELCOM agreements and recommendations related to land-based pollution and nutrient inputs, in order to assess the status of their implementation by the .”This review, together with evaluating emerging environmental challenges, is important for the BSAP update. The results will allow for the formulation of new recommendations, and help us understand what actions work and what don’t,” said Monika Stankiewicz, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary, adding that a better comprehension of how the ecosystem responds to the current measures, and within which timeframes, would be the next step  for devising pertinent improvements.In Riga, the HELCOM group also agreed to on the first practical steps to elaborate the regional principles and risk assessment framework for the management of internal nutrient reserves through sea-based measures. Nutrients have accumulated in the Baltic Sea over time and are aggravating .In addition, progress of implementation of the  was also discussed. It was further agreed on the need for more efforts, especially on waste management to prevent litter and microliter from entering the sea. Storm water management, eco-design to reduce over-packaging, and discarded or lost fishing gear were also addressed. The importance of environmental education and public outreach in addressing the litter issue was particularly highlighted, welcoming international public campaigns such as the . Specific attention was also placed on hazardous substances. A suggestion for HELCOM indicators on hazardous substances to integrate information on both loads and their sources, was strongly welcomed by the participants, allowing for a more timely and precise response to emerging pollution threats. The PRESSURE 9-2018 Meeting attracted over 40 representatives from all contracting parties to the Helsinki Convention and observers from regional NGOs and professional associations with stakes in the Baltic Sea. For more information, read the .

The HELCOM Pressure group met in Riga, Latvia from 10 to 12 October 2018 to tackle matters related to land-based pollution of the Baltic Sea, during the Ninth Meeting of the Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area (PRESS

Data from HELCOM countries on pollution and nutrient load in the Baltic Sea is now available to the public

A new online resource compiling
data reported by HELCOM countries on input of nutrients to the Baltic Sea has recently
been made available to the public. Hosted by the Baltic Nest Institute, the is now open to all and offers annual data on
nutrient loads collected by HELCOM pollution load compilations (PLC) since 1995. show that land-based pollution remains the major environmental pressure
on the Baltic Sea marine ecosystem. Land-based sources are responsible for the large
share of total discharges into the sea both nutrients and hazardous substances.Pollution load
compilations (PLC) are carried out by all HELCOM countries to evaluate and
quantify the amount of pollutants annually discharged from land into the sea.
The data is obtained from national monitoring programmes and reporting from
industries and municipal water works. Data on airborne
deposition of nitrogen and selected hazardous substances specifically provided
by  the
(EMEP) for the HELCOM area are published as (BSEFs).Another important HELCOM
work to help visualizing data on environmental pressures in the Baltic Sea region
is the (MADS). A new section is now specifically dedicated
to land-based sources of sea pollution. It contains several interactive
maps illustrating as well as distribution of in the Baltic Sea catchment area. It also maps
information on , location of and others.

A new online resource compiling data reported by HELCOM countries on input of nutrients to the Baltic Sea has recently been made available to the public.

HELCOM group meets in Riga to discuss nutrients from land-based sources

​Agricultural
practices and their effects on the Baltic Sea were the main focus of the Sixth
Meeting of the (AGRI 6-2018) that was held at
the Ministry of Agriculture in Riga, Latvia from 15 to 16 May 2018. This HELCOM group consists of representatives from environmental
and agricultural national authorities and observer organizations from HELCOM
countries.According to recent
HELCOM assessments,
– caused by oversupply of nutrients mainly from land-based sources – remains a major
threat to the Baltic Sea environment. Earlier in March, the recognized agriculture as one of the main contributors
to the total input of nutrients into the Baltic Sea. The HELCOM countries
therefore committed to improve cooperation with the agricultural sector in the
Baltic Sea region. The
discussed various aspects of sustainable agricultural practices in the region
and measures to reduce nutrient inputs to the Baltic Sea environment. Among
them are smart nutrient management in agriculture, innovative water management
in rural areas, revitalization of wetlands and paludiculture – agriculture on
peatlands. The decision taken
by the group on drafting regional recommendation for the use of national manure
standards addressing nutrients in manure is an important step towards better
nutrient management in the agricultural sector. The key themes of
the meeting were (i) organization of the work on regional nutrient recycling
strategy and (ii) the revision of Part 2 of – the section about the prevention of pollution
from agriculture. The group agreed on the practical steps towards elaboration
of the regional nutrient recycling strategy by 2020 under the lead of Finland.
The group decided to establish an international drafting group for revision of Annex
III in accordance with the earlier agreed scope of the revision and with the
timeframe extending to 2020.Participants also
discussed possible reasons for growing ammonia emissions in the region reported
by
(EMEP). The group decided to take a closer look into measures to reduce these
emissions applied in the countries and potential to elaborate related regional
recommendations.Read the AGRI 6-2018
meeting outcome document .

Agricultural practices and their effects on the Baltic Sea were the main focus of the Sixth Meeting of the HELCOM Group on Sustainable Agricultural Practices (AGRI 6-2018) that was held at the Ministry of Agriculture in Riga, Latvia from 15 to 16 May 2018