POISK, Russian Scientific Community Weekly Newspaper: Why have the worms come back? The work of scientists in the waters of the Baltic bear fruit

News / 10.09.2009

Translation in English:
Weekly newspaper for the scientific community No. 37 (1059). 11 September 2009
Why have the worms come back?
The work of scientists in the waters of the Baltic bear fruit
At the end of the current year, the international media reported fantastic news: for the first time in the last 10 years, the water of the Gulf of Finland seemed to not have as many polluting chemical substances as usually found at this time of year. It was also noted that there was a significant reduction in the level of eutrophication (“florescence” of the water, created by the nitrogenous substances poured into it). And, finally, the most positive news was about finding living organisms – a type of Marenzelleria viridis bristle worm (polychaete) – at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland, a place that before was practically lifeless due to the lack of oxygen. Such encouraging information was obtained in the scope of the Alg@line project (which allowed the quality of the shallow water of the Baltic to be monitored by placing automatic measuring instruments on cargo and passenger ships over seven years), and also thanks to the work of the annual expedition teams “Muikku” and “Aranda” working together with the Environment Centre of Finland and the Institute of Marine Research on research. Although, Marenzelleria viridis is not a typical inhabitant of the Baltic, and is usually found in the waters of the Western Atlantic, the scientific leader of “Muikku”, Seppo Knuttila, is sure that this level is not a danger for the local ecosystem. On the contrary, the return of any sea life at the bottom of the sea has to be considered a great success, bristle worms are a significant link in the food chain and the given type, according to Mr Knuttila, is totally suitable for fish food. The scientists carrying out the monitoring consider the reason for such a notable improvement to be the recent spate of quite mild winters, which have prevented the formation of too many solid, icy coverings. Which, in turn, has allowed the waters of the Gulf of Finland to more accurately intermix the saturated oxygen in its very deepest layer. However, of course, we should not overestimate this and a series of active programmes to measure waste water in the Baltic region is needed…
…Such wonderful news was discussed in the corridors of the international conference the “KEMIRA Baltic Sea Summit – from words to actions”, which took place in Helsinki in the last week of August. A measure which was organised by the company Kemira, which specialises in the production of chemicals, in particular for the recycling of water, and the Baltic Sea Action Group – BSAG – www.bsag.fi. This independent organisation, which was created in March 2008, is trying to unite the strengths of the civilian community and private and state sectors to save the Baltic Sea from pollution. The meeting in Helsinki was devoted to discussing current projects and definite actions to process waste in the area of the bailing basin of the Baltic Sea. Speakers from financial and environment protection organisations, water channel agencies, engineering companies and chemical suppliers from Byelorussia, Russia and Finland presented reports.
“KEMIRA Baltic Sea Summit – from words to actions” was one of the preliminary events in the scope of the preparation for the major international forum – The Baltic Sea Action Summit (www.bsas.fi), which will take place in February 2010 in Helsinki at a higher level. It will cover four basic points: eutrophication, navigation, hazardous waste and biological diversity. It has been suggested that one of the days of the forum be completely devoted to scientific questions, moreover, the heads of government of countries in the Baltic region, leaders of business communities, representatives of social and voluntary organisations should consider the different obligations concerning saving the fragile Baltic environment. Moreover, these obligations will not only be of a financial nature: the participants should exchange experience, and take responsibility in the technological, scientific and educational areas of this field.
According to the participants in the “KEMIRA Baltic Sea Summit”, the Baltic Sea is an example of the ecological crisis on a multi-national scale: 90 million people, living in 14 countries in this region are, to a large extent, dependent on nature and on the problems that may only be solved by large-scale cooperation. How could this ecosystem be in such a deplorable state? In many ways the Baltic Sea has a special place amongst the other waters on our planet, and in order to adequately assess the condition of it, we must examine the environment of this water not only from a biological point of view but also from an evolutionary one: the Baltic is one of the youngest seas on the planet, and it is still being formed. The important distinguishing characteristic of it is that it is one of the biggest brackish waters in the world; it is in a class by itself between salt and non-salt water. In the Baltic Sea we can discern a unique stratification. The water is in layers: the upper layer is fresh water, the lower layer is salt water coming from the ocean, however there is practically no exchange between them. Such a division must affect the biological and chemical characteristics of this sea. As a result, at the bottom of it harmful bacteria multiply and this leads to a critical lack of oxygen forming large dead zones, which now cover almost a quarter of the bottom of the Baltic – about 100 thousand square kilometres.
Besides the changes in its natural character, over the last few years the man-made impact on the Baltic’s ecosystem has increased. Delayed water exchange in this region is the reason for the water becoming particularly sensitive to pollution. Industrial waste, which is frequently released into the sea, stays there for a long tome, drops to the bottom and the low temperature of the water slows the decomposition of it. The pollution of the Baltic by nitrogenous substances is one of the main causes of eutrophication. The basic resource for the formation of nitrogen in the atmosphere is the emissions from burning fossil fuels and from transport, and also agriculture, industry, transport, energy production and municipal and household water emissions, as a result the concentration of DDT in the Baltic is 10 times higher than on the western bank of Sweden, which is washed by the waters of the Atlantic.
Since a large amount of cities and industrial companies in this region have been using chemicals from the company Kemira for cleaning waste water, its top managers have been seriously considering how it is possible to reduce the pollution in the Baltic Sea and how to attract the attention of different communities to this issue.
Research, in connection with water use, is regularly made in the R&D department of Kemira (in Atlanta, Leverkusen, Shanghai and Espoo) and every year 1.5-2% of the company’s profits are devoted to this. Such work has generally lead to cooperations in the scope of Finnish and foreign partnerships: with The Centre for Technical Research in Finland (VTT), the National Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES), universities, municipal water treatment plants and also companies working on finding technological solutions for water processing. At Kemira they emphasise that optimising the use of additives for processing water certainly results in a reduction in the consumption of electrical energy, which is also an important economic factor, therefore here they are trying to develop the most contemporary processing mechanisms. At the moment, the company is creating a chemical compound suitable for use with drinking water, industrial water and waste water, for the disinfection of water and absorption of silt to obtain a biogas from the absorption of waste water.
Kemira is also working on the regeneration of lakes, creating a new type of equipment for water channels, which increases the power of them. Amongst the issues that the Finnish chemicals company is still waiting to find an answer for, is the extraction of medicinal compounds (for example, antibiotics, which may not only strengthen the human organism, but support the growth of harmful bacteria in water) from municipal drainage, the development of mechanisms for the repeated use of water and in areas where there is a lack of it, the creation of new types of reagents for new solutions in the area of hydrotechnological equipment, the recycling of phosphorous, etc. If all these problems were successfully solved, then in 2021 the emissions of nitrogenous substances will have decreased by 135, and phosphorous by 15 thousand tonnes a year (in comparison with 1997-2003).
The participants in the summit had a unique opportunity to visit the R&D centre of Kemira in Espoo, which carries our work in the water processing area and produces water and chemicals for the oil and mining industry, and also works on microbiology, in the company of the vice-president of the research centre, Ilkka Pollari. Now 160 employees work there, practically none of whom are Russian. However, as next year they plan to increase the staff by 25-30 people, there will shortly be a recruitment examination in Ecpoo for the vacant positions, and the management of Kemira hope that this news will attract the attention of talented Russian chemists and biologists – both young and experienced people.
At the moment, the closest Russian-Finnish cooperation is the current work between Kemira and the GUP of the “Saint Petersburg Canal”. According to the manager and general director of the “Water Canal”, Anatoli Kinebas, whereas before about 330 thousand m² of waste water was poured into the Gulf of Finland in 24 hours without being cleaned, since then in September 2005 a Europe South-West cleaning facility (SWCF) was set up and now in Saint Petersburg 85% of the waste water is efficiently treated.
The SWCF cleaning processes are the basis for technology for more comprehensive biological removal of biogenous substances with the help of special products, produced by Kemira, “Ferix-3” (a granulated sulphate iron III, an economical and beneficial coagulant for processing raw water, particularly containing a lot of humus, food substances and algae, this is also the ideal coagulant for dehydrated silt). Furthermore, the waste water to be cleaned is also decontaminated with ultraviolet. In fact, it is soon to be suggested to make the norms for the phosphorous content in municipal waste water more severe, in 2015 it is planned to treat 98% of all the waste water in Saint Petersburg. As Anatoli Kinebas noted, none of the technological innovations for saving the Baltic can be dispensed with: therefore the “Saint Petersburg Canal” considers itself to be a socially oriented organisation, responsible for the ecological education of the population. One of the most important projects of the company in this area was started in 2003 by opening the museum “Saint Petersburg World of Water”, where naturally there are historical and contemporary exhibitions, the idea was to create a traditional and interactive multi-media based museum to promote scientific knowledge. Moreover, the “Saint Petersburg Canal” is constantly perfecting its own training and advanced training system for its executives and providing grants and internships for the support of young scientists and students studying science.
On closing the “KEMIRA Baltic Sea Summit”, the participants particularly noted that the most important thing is that what they need as much as financing and new technology is … patience. The regeneration of the Baltic is a long-term project and, perhaps, only the grandchildren of today’s scientists will be able to have a swim in a perfectly clean sea. However, planning to help nature can be done now and the reward, even the smallest one for the moment and even if it’s just a start, has already been seen in the form of Marenzelleria viridis, and the immanent arrival of fish at the bottom of sea encourages us to wait.