Helsinki offsets wastewater phosphorus footprint

News Release 25 November 2016 

Helsinki will become the first city of the Baltic Sea area that is phosphorus neutral in terms of its municipal wastewaters. Through the joint project of the City of Helsinki and the John Nurminen Foundation, Helsinki offsets the wastewater phosphorus footprint of the Viikinmäki treatment plant by funding the treatment of wastewaters in Vitebsk, Belarus.

The City of Helsinki and the John Nurminen Foundation will pilot phosphorus discharge offsetting between cities in the Baltic Sea area. In the pilot, the City of Helsinki and HSY, the authority responsible for wastewater management in the city, will, for the duration of one year, offset Helsinki's share of phosphorus discharges at the Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant by reducing a corresponding volume of nutrient discharges in the wastewaters of Vitebsk. The operation will make Helsinki the first city in the Baltic Sea area that is phosphorus neutral in terms of its municipal wastewaters.

In order to reduce discharges, the City of Helsinki and the Foundation support the acquisition of phosphorus removal chemicals for the Vitebsk wastewater treatment plant so that the plant can reach the phosphorus levels recommended by HELCOM in the wastewaters treated there. The City of Helsinki and HSY finance the purchase of phosphorus removal chemicals with the total sum of €24,000.

Vitebsk, located in northern Belarus close to the Russian and Latvian borders, has a functioning wastewater treatment plant. The nutrient load from the city ends up in the Baltic Sea via the river Daugava, which flows through Latvia. According to Belarusian legislation, wastewater treatment plants are not obliged to treat their wastewaters in line with HELCOM (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) recommendations (a maximum of 0.5 mg of phosphorus per a litre of wastewater leaving the plant), and the country's economic situation does not allow discharge reductions that would go beyond what is required on the national level to be implemented without external support.

Helsinki as frontrunner – cleaning up the Baltic Sea at wastewater treatment plants

The annual phosphorus load from HSY’s wastewater treatment plants at Viikinmäki and Suomenoja to the sea totals at approximately 33 tonnes annually. Thanks to extremely efficient phosphorus removal at the Viikinmäki plant, its annual discharges amount to only approximately 20 tonnes per year. Viikinmäki treats all the wastewaters of Helsinki, central and eastern Vantaa, Kerava, Tuusula, Järvenpää, and Sipoo, which, combined, have around 800,000 inhabitants, and the wastewaters from all industry in the area. Phosphorus discharges for Helsinki residents are extremely small, currently amounting to only about 1/7 of the discharge per a resident of Vitebsk. After the offsetting operation, phosphorus discharges per a resident of Vitebsk will drop to a quarter of what they are today. Offsetting is done by investing in Belarus, since this will result in a far greater impact on the status of the Baltic Sea than a similar effort in Finland.


Mayor Jussi Pajunen says that the city has a great responsibility in the protection of the Baltic Sea,

“The vision of Helsinki and of the Baltic Sea Challenge is a clean, productive and shared Baltic Sea. A clean Baltic Sea and the maritime city of Helsinki go hand in hand. As our new residential areas and business parks are opened, they will be all the more impressive and attractive as the status of the Baltic Sea improves.  Our position as the first phosphorus neutral city of the Baltic Sea speaks of our pioneering spirit, and brings us credibility as an environmental stakeholder.”

Tommi Fred, Director (pro tem) at HSY, reminded us of the opportunities water utilities have for making a difference,

 “Protecting the Baltic Sea is a key feature of our strategy and our area of responsibility. Every day, we do hands-on work that reduces the load to waterways in the capital area. However, protection of the Baltic Sea requires extensive measures everywhere in the catchment area of the Sea. The phosphorus neutrality project is a new, innovative initiative in Baltic Sea protection, and we are happy to be involved in a project that creates new operating models.”

Coastal states benefit from action in Belarus

Marjukka Porvari, who leads the Clean Baltic Sea projects at the John Nurminen Foundation, emphasizes cost-efficiency,

est possible environmental impact. The pilot in Vitebsk is a great example of taking our operations to the locations where each euro brings the greatest result. Activities in Belarus will impact the main basin of the Baltic Sea in particular, and that is directly linked to the status of our marine areas. The people who benefit from the operations in Belarus will therefore be the users of the Baltic Sea.”

The John Nurminen Foundation has concluded an agreement with the Vitebsk water utility on purchasing the chemicals needed for more efficient phosphorus removal. According to the agreement, the Foundation will finance 51% of the purchases, and the water utility 49%. The water utility of Vitebsk will carry out the purchases and use the chemicals for phosphorus precipitation under the supervision of the Foundation.  The final volume of discharge reductions will depend on the price of the precipitation chemicals and the phosphorus levels at the treatment plant.

The Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY participates in the Baltic Sea Challenge. The first policy programme of the federation of municipalities was drawn up for 2012-2014, and extended until the end of 2015. The second policy programme for 2016-2018 is a continuation of the previous programme, and takes into consideration the themes of the programme shared by the cities of Helsinki and Turku.

For the City of Helsinki, the sea is a strategic success factor, and the first city-wide Baltic Sea policy programme was published jointly with the City of Turku in 2007. At the same time, the Baltic Sea Challenge network was launched to support volunteer organisations that work for the Baltic Sea. Currently, Helsinki and Turku are implementing their second Baltic Sea policy programme for 2014-2018, and the Baltic Sea Challenge network is joined by 240 partners.
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The John Nurminen Foundation, established in 1992, works for the Baltic Sea and its marine cultural heritage in way that makes an impact and brings results. The Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects improve the status of the Baltic Sea with concrete measures that reduce the nutrient load and environmental risks faced by the sea. The Clean Baltic Sea projects are financed with private donations and public funding.