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Finnish officials: Polish phosphorus leakages vast

Analysis on samples taken by Finnish officials from phosphor-gypsum sites on the Baltic Sea coast hint vast leakages.

Kipsijätekasa Puolan Gdanskissa.
Phosphor-gypsum waste stack in Gdańsk, Poland. Image: Yle

The samples taken by researchers from the Finnish Environmental Institute (SYKE) have proven that at least one of the two large Polish phosphor-gypsum sites near the Baltic Coast is leaking large amounts of phosphorous into near waters, says the Ministry of Environment in a press release on Wednesday.

The two large phosphor-gypsum waste stacks are in Gdańsk, on the Vistula River delta, and in Police, West Poland. The Finnish researchers travelled to the sites in the beginning of July, after two Finnish independent reports emerged claiming the sites might be heavily leaking phosphorous into the Baltic Sea.

Helsingin Sanomat, which collected its own water samples from the Vistula river delta around the Gdańsk plant, reported that the waste pile there could leak as much as 200 tonnes of phosphorus into the Baltic annually - more than all of Finland’s cities combined.

The John Nurminen Foundation reached an even higher estimate of 500 tonnes for Gdańsk and at least 170 tonnes for the Police site in their report, conducted by the Finnish consulting firm Pöyry. This report was assembled using data provided by the Polish authorities.

"Intensive measures are needed"

"According to the results, phosphate and total phosphorus concentrations are very high in the Dead Vistula beside the phosphor-gypsum stack", says Senior Research Scientist Antti Räike from SYKE.

The Dead Vistula is a cut-off channel of the river Vistula which doesn't regularly flow towards the sea, weakening the mixing and dilution with the Baltic, but also making it hard to estimate the actual outflow into the sea.

Räike says enhanced actions are needed at the Gdańsk site to reduce the environmental impacts.

Smaller problems around the Police site

Samples taken around waters near the Police site showed relatively low increases in phosphorous quantities. In Police, unlike in Gdańsk, leakage waters from the gypsum stack are collected and pumped in to a waste water plant, which reduces the possibility of phosphorous flowing into the Baltic.

However, the Ministry of Environment says that all of the environmental effects of the stack are not known.

Polish and Finnish now concur on results

Finnish and Polish authorities worked together on investigating the sites after Finnish Environment Minister Ville Niinistö and his Polish counterpart Marcin Korolec agreed upon the cooperation in June.

In addition to the now published Finnish findings, Poland also re-evaluated the sites by taking samples and analyzing them in Polish laboratories. Initially Polish officials and the fertiliser plants responsible for the waste consistently denied that any phosphorous, which is a major medium for eutrophication, flows directly into the Baltic.

However, Polish officials are now of the same mind as their Finnish colleagues and the Finnish and Polish environment ministers are leading the talks on taking further measures.

”The ministers have agreed to come back on further actions,” says Director General Timo Tanninen from the Ministry of the Environment.

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