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NEWS ANALYSIS: Phosphorus flows – information doesn’t
By Heli Saavalainen
The discovery of the largest source of phosphorus in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea on the shore of the Gulf of Finland has raised big problems. They involve the unreliability of Russian estimates of emissions, its monitoring of emissions and dissemination of information.
In Russia the large phosphorus emissions are denied, even though both Finnish and Russian researchers are in agreement that they exist. Each year up to 1,000 tons of phosphate phosphorus leak from the waste gypsum mountain at the Fosforit fertiliser factory into the Luga River, and from there into the Gulf of Finland. This is equivalent to the emissions of all of Finland. The phosphorus accelerates the growth of harmful algae in the sea.
On Wednesday a sample-taking ceremony was organised at the Fosforit factory for the benefit of journalists. The water sample was quickly analysed.
In this charade the emission estimate was calculated as a fraction of the previous one. These results were reported by the Russian partner of the Baltic Sea Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), Leonid Korovin.
There have also been other kinds of figures reported in Russia. They are up to 2.5 times greater than the recent estimate by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).
In the view of Fredrik Wulff, Professor Emeritus at the Swedish Maritime Academy, the whole case shows that the Russians’ estimates of emissions are of no value. Wulff lashes out sharply at the company behind the figures, Ecology & Business, and Leonid Korovin, who serves as its director-general.
“The official reports have not been correct. For many years Korovin has reported emission figures that are completely nonsensical and far too great in light of this case. The whole thing involves a lack of competence in the reporting of emissions”, Wulff says.
Ecology & Business sells information on emissions produced by other institutions and officials to HELCOM.
The company has reported very high phosphorus levels since 2008. In the same year the officials moved the location where they took the samples downstream.
However, in spite of the high levels of phosphorus, the source of the emissions could not be pinpointed.
Korovin feels that the source of emissions into the Luga River and the Gulf of Finland is still uncertain.
“From 2008 we have round higher levels in some months, but not throughout the year. It has not been constant”, he says.
Korovin is responsible for reporting on information concerning emissions, and he chairs a HELCOM working group responsible for hot spots - the worst sources of pollution. The group is responsible for reducing emissions from all land-based sources in the Baltic Sea area.
SYKE special researcher Seppo Knuuttila says that the big differences in readings from one month to another result exclusively from where the samples were taken.
“The Russians have taken the samples from the shore, and too close to the source of the emissions.”
He also sees many problems behind the Russian estimates on emissions.
“Their entire environmental monitoring and emission control should be reorganised. Both the officials responsible for these matters, and the research institutes lack resources, and the laboratory equipment is obsolete.”
There are also problems in the dissemination of information.
A memo drawn up in the past week examining the basis of the new estimates on emissions stipulates that all information concerning the results of the Luga River must go through HELCOM and its Russian representative (Leonid Korovin).
This was decided at a meeting of the expert group in St. Petersburg in December. In plain language this amounts to a prohibition on anyone else giving out information.
HELCOM Secretary General Anne Christine Brusendorff was informed of the results when they came out on November 21st. However, she did not say anything about the findings to representatives of the Baltic Sea countries when they met in Helsinki.
“I only had preliminary results. The samples had to be confirmed, after which we had to negotiate with Russian officials. I also had to inform my home country Denmark.”
“HELCOM has not been hiding information. This is a very important matter, which we want to solve. It has to be done in cooperation with different countries”, Brusendorff insists.
However, the information has not reached Finnish officials.
For instance, Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö (Green) got the news of the new source of emissions just a couple of days before the intended publication of the results.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.1.2012
HELI SAAVALAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat