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Rivers still carry high quantities of nutrients

Long-term progress:
More than half of Finland's coastal waters are in a moderate condition at best.
Short-term progress:
Short-term variations in the nutrient discharge from rivers is mainly explained by fluctuations in water flow.
Progress in relation to targets:
Based on the current loading, a good status for coastal waters cannot be achieved by 2015.

Phosphorus discharge from Finnish rivers into the Baltic Sea in 1970–2015

Phosphorus discharge from Finnish rivers
Source: SYKE. 2016.

Nitrogen discharge from Finnish rivers into the Baltic Sea in 1970–2015

Nitrogen discharge from Finnish rivers
Source: SYKE. 2016.

Finland accounts for around 10% of the nutrient loading in the Baltic Sea

In the 2000s, Finnish rivers have carried an annual average of 3,400 tonnes of phosphorus and 74,000 tonnes of nitrogen into the Baltic Sea, which accounts for approximately one tenth of the Baltic Sea's overall load of these nutrients. Nutrient run-off from natural areas of river basins and from human action builds up in rivers. Annual variation in river nutrient levels is high because the time and amount of rain affects run-off from forests and fields.

Quantities of river-borne nutrients have remained almost unchanged from the 1970s to the present day, despite the substantial reduction in pollution from point sources. High levels of nutrients in rivers are particularly related to agricultural activity. Despite the reduction in fertiliser quantities, the establishment of filter strips and the proliferation of erosion-reducing cultivation methods, there has been no significant reduction in nutrient run-off from croplands.

The Baltic Sea nutrient loading must be reduced because the sea is suffering from eutrophication. According to the 2008 ecological classification of surface waters, more than half of Finland's coastal waters are in moderate ecological condition or worse. The EU aims to achieve at least a good status for all surface waters by 2015. This target will not be met in Finland's coastal waters – the new 2013 survey of the ecological condition of surface waters indicates that the status of coastal waters has remained much the same since 2008.


  • Ecological and chemical state of surface waters. Regional Environment Centres and Finnish Environment Institute. 2008.
  • Ecological state of surface waters. ELY-Centres, Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute and Finnish Environment Institute. 2013.
  • Vesiensuojelun suuntaviivat vuoteen 2015, Valtioneuvoston periaatepäätös (Finnish Government decision-in-principle on Water Protection Policy Outlines to 2015). The Finnish Environment 10/2007. Ministry of Environment. 2007.

Phosphogypsum stacks and secret agents

Significant point sources of pollution are still discovered within the catchment area of the Baltic Sea, despite the fact that pollution control has for some time focused on non-point sources rather than point sources.

The most famous cases of recent years are the phosphorus leaches from waste phosphogypsum stacks adjacent to fertiliser factories in Kingisepp, Russia and Gdansk and Police in Poland, investigated not only by researchers but also by the Finnish daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and the Russian security service.

The discovery of an unexpected pollution source may be a politically and economically sensitive subject, but for the health of the Baltic Sea, it is a real bonus. It is fairly easy to stop phosphorus leaching from such stacks, and far less costly than reducing diffuse pollution.

Puolan Policen kipsivuori 3.7.2013, Puolan Policen kipsivuori 3.7.2013

Phosphogypsum stacks in Polica, Poland 3.7.2013. Photo SYKE/Jarkko Koskela.

Published 2015-11-20 at 9:48, updated 2021-02-02 at 13:39