Internationell miljö- och naturresurspolitik forsknigsprogram
October, the Court of Justice dismissed the Commission’s request to declare
that “by not requiring more stringent treatment of all waste water collected in
agglomerations more than 10 000 population equivalent, the Republic of
Finland has failed to fulfil its obligations” (Case-335/ 07). In practice, this
means that Finland
is not obliged to increase its nitrogen removal efficiency in the larger urban
waste water treatment plants (WWTPs in charge of over 10 000 inhabitants)
from an average of 55% to 70%.
defendant won the case because it presented evidence that the lakes and rivers
are able to retain 19 to 82% of the nitrogen from the inland waste water discharges
before they reach the sea and therefore it is not necessary nor justified to
increase the efficiency in all of the treatment plants. The Commission failed
to prove otherwise. The defendant also informed the Court that all the Finnish
treatment plants must obtain an environmental permit, which is formulated
according to the local situation (i.e. the effects of nitrogen input from a
particular WWTP to the inland waters and the Baltic Sea).
This means that the local environmental centres assess the need for increased
efficiency case by case.
study published by the Finnish Environment Institute in 2008 (Suomen Ympäristö
46/ 2008) clearly shows that we have many WWTPs on our coasts with extremely
low nitrogen removal efficiency. To give an example, in Salo, a municipality located
west of Helsinki on the coast of the Gulf of Finland with circa 55 000 inhabitants, the
nitrogen removal efficiency in 2005 was only 8%. Salo had the second lowest
removal efficiency out of all the municipalities considered, but it is definitely
not alone. In Pori
the efficiency was 27 % whereas Kotka and Pietarsaari made it just above
surprising indeed. One might have thought that the Finnish urban waste water
treatment is a fine example to the other riparian countries, but in fact, the nitrogen
removal efficiency in many of the coastal municipalities is still very low. To
put it the other way around, there is in fact only one larger coastal WWTP that
removes over 80 % of the nitrogen and it’s located in Helsinki. So yes, Finland
won, but what about the Baltic Sea?
In order to
combat eutrophication, the reductions of phosphorus and nitrogen input to the
sea are necessary. As a result, Finland
has committed to the reduction targets of the HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan,
which are equivalent of 150 tonnes of phosphorus and 1200 tonnes of nitrogen for
alone. Antti Iho and Markku Ollikainen pointed out in Helsingin
Sanomat on November 14th that increasing the nitrogen removal
efficiency to 70% in Finland
would actually decrease our national nitrogen input by over 2000 tonnes. This
implies that increasing the removal efficiency in the treatment plants alone
would be a sufficient measure to reach the set target, and therefore their
potential should not be ignored in the discussions on how to reduce the
nutrient inputs from Finland.
So yes, Finland won, but
we are the ones still polluting our own coastline and we are the ones who can
do something about it. But how should we do it?