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Spills contribute to eutrophication

25 October 2021

In connection with unloading and loading in ports, plant nutrients leak into the Baltic Sea. With simple means, the waste can be reduced. The Race For The Baltic Foundation has developed a concept.

The Baltic Sea is one of the world's most polluted seas. Eutrophication has the greatest impact on its ecosystem. Nutrients that reach the Baltic Sea change the balance between algae, plankton and various fish species - an imbalance that has contributed to approximately 20 percent of the Baltic Sea bottom now being completely oxygen-free. When it comes to human emissions of nutrients, agriculture in particular is the major cause, but also transport, emissions from treatment plants and individual sewers as well as industry contribute.

So what can be done about the problem? Lots of things, of course. The Race For The Baltic Foundation was started by Zennström Philanthropies with the goal of restoring the Baltic Sea environment. It started with a three-month cycling campaign in 2013 (hence the name Race For The Baltic) to arouse public opinion and commitment in the countries around the Baltic Sea and to collect signatures for that year's HELCOM meeting in Copenhagen. Today, the foundation works partly as a coordinating body to bring together politicians, companies and researchers, and partly through its own concrete projects to improve the health of the Baltic Sea. One of them is led by Fanny Tham and focuses on spills in ports during unloading of dry bulk with plant nutrients.

“A report from an environmental organization pointed out that ports that handle mineral fertilizers can have very large emissions of the most eutrophication-driving phosphorus and nitrogen available. I started by checking if this was true.”

She visited ports on the Baltic Sea that handles mineral fertilizers. Checked equipment, talked around, studied regulations and understood that phosphorus and nitrogen (main components in many plant nutrient mixtures) are not classified as toxic substances (HME).

“You did not have to be as picky as with anything else and when you load and unload, it should go quickly and efficiently. And the area between the quay edge and the ships is completely open without protection. Of course, there may be some spillage there.”

In the port of Landskrona, however, a tarpaulin had been placed in between to catch spills - something that was intercepted and together with the port, a spill protector was developed within the project. A prototype has since been installed in other ports, including Lidköping.

“Together with the ports and Boston Consulting Group, we produced a material with practical and cost-effective suggestions on what can be done. For example, when it is determined that there are high levels of phosphorus in stormwater, it is usually said that it must be purified, which is a very costly story. So why not make sure it does not get polluted instead? Simple things like cleaning regularly and covering stormwater wells can have a very big effect,” says Fanny Tham.

How much spill there is differs from port to port. In modern and well-maintained ports such as Landskrona, it is very small, but in older ports with old buckets and worn equipment, the emissions can be significantly greater.

“It is clear that agriculture is a bigger problem, but these emissions are completely unnecessary and easy to do something about, which is also not very expensive. The waste that can also be resold.”

The project is now being completed and for Fanny Tham, the next step will be to try to spread the knowledge internationally.

“We have a dialogue with some ports that will hopefully do something about this.”

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