HELSINKI, Finland, January 4, 2005 (ENS): There is good news
for people who eat fish from the Baltic Sea - they are
less contaminated now than they were 25 years ago. Concentrations
of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Baltic
Sea fish have declined during the last 25 years, according
to a new study issued Monday by the Helsinki Commission.
The Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, works to protect
the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources
of pollution through intergovernmental co-operation
between the countries bordering the sea - Denmark, Estonia,
the European Community, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania,
Poland, Russia and Sweden.
HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention
on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic
Sea Area," more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.
The decrease of contaminants in the Baltic Sea fish
is a result of measures taken by the HELCOM countries
to reduce discharges of lead and PCBs to the environment,
the Commission said when launching the report.
The Baltic Sea, as one of the world’s largest
bodies of brackish water, is ecologically unique. Due
to its special geographical, climatological, and oceanographic
characteristics, the Baltic Sea is highly sensitive
to the environmental impacts of human activities in
its catchment area, which is about four times larger
than the sea area itself and is inhabtied by some 85
The comprehensive monitoring program coordinated by
HELCOM assesses the whole pathway of hazardous substances
- from emissions on land to their effects in the marine
environment, including fish.
"This information allows for appropriate decisions
to be made in order to reduce pollution," the Commission
As a result, annual emissions of heavy metals to the
air have decreased since 1990 and consequently their
annual deposition onto the Baltic Sea has been halved
during that time, HELCOM said.
The study found that lead concentrations in liver tissues
of fish commonly eaten by humans, such as herring, cod,
and perch, show "coherent trends of similar magnitudes
in various regions of the Baltic Sea."
Sampling, sample preparation, storage in specimen
bank and evaluation of results were carried out by the
Contaminant Research Group at the Swedish Museum of
Natural History, Stockholm. Chemical analysis was carried
out at Institute of Applied Environmental Research at
They have documented that since 1981 the concentrations
of lead in herring and cod liver have been decreasing
at an average rate of four to seven percent per year,
and more recently in perch liver up to a rate of 13
The Helsinki Commission has imposed bans and restrictions
on the production and marketing of PCBs since the 1980s
and called for measures to decontaminate PCB containing
equipment and dispose of PCBs in an environmentally
sound manner. The Commission's goal is to completely
cease the input of these hazardous substances to the
Baltic Sea by the year 2020.
As a result of these bans and restrictions, PCB concentrations
in herring muscle have shown significant decreasing
trends during the last 25 years. The rates of decrease
have varied between four and 10 percent a year, indicating
a total decrease of 60 to 80 percent since the end of
PCB concentrations in cod and perch also have been
decreasing, with an average annual rate of decrease
of six to 10 percent since 1980.
Still, despite obvious progress in the reduction of
discharges of lead and PCBs to the environment, their
concentrations in the sea water are still several times
higher in the Baltic Sea compared to waters of the North
Concentrations of PCBs and lead are three to six times
higher in the Baltic Proper and in the southern Bothnian
Sea even compared to the Kattegatt and the Skagerrak
areas, HELCOM said.
In general, the concentrations of heavy metals and
organic pollutants in sea water are several times higher
in the Baltic Sea compared to waters of the North Atlantic.
Continued eutrophication and persistent pollutants
in living organisms are the main concerns underlined
in a set of new and updated HELCOM environmental indicators
launched by the Helsinki Commission Monitoring and Assessment
Group in December 2004.
The regional extent of eutrophication is clear from
concentrations of nutrients in winter and the subsequent
intensity of spring phytoplankton blooms. Toxic blooms
of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, continue to be
extensive in the Baltic Sea, the monitoring group warned.
The amount of radioactive caesium-137 in the Baltic
Sea from the 1986 Chernobyl explosion and fire remains
unchanged, with highest concentrations in the sediments
of the Bothnian Sea and the Gulf of Finland.
Even though an increase in maritime transportation
across the Baltic during the past decade has increased
the potential for illegal oil discharges, the number
of observed illegal oil discharges has been decreasing
every year. Still, some 300 illegal oil spills were
detected in 2003.
The Baltic Sea catchment area extends over some 1.7
million square kilometers and is home to nearly 85 million
There are 11 cities with populations greater than 500,000
citizens in the catchment area, and almost 15 million
people live within 10 kilometers of the coastline.
View the new Baltic Sea indicators online at: http://helcom.navigo.fi/environment/indicators2004/en_GB/indicators2004/
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