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Ministry of the Environment: The water contact of hazardous substances must be reduced

17.02.2015

The representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and the Estonian Water Companies Association met today in order to discuss how to reduce the influence of hazardous substances to the aquatic environment.

Hazardous substances cause disease and genetic changes in living organisms. Adverse effects occur when the content of these substances is over the safe level in natural water. Although some substances are of natural origin, their natural content is within safe levels. Mainly, the influence of hazardous substances is due to the effluent from the sewage treatment plants.

Head of the Water Department of the Ministry of Environment Rene Reisner said that keeping the water bodies clean is in the interests of all water consumers, since due to natural water cycle, we use the same water all over again. “Therefore, it is extremely important that we do not allow hazardous substances that pose a threat to nature and human health by circulating in the aquatic environment, since these substances may end up in our dinner table and then inside of us.”

In order to ensure that people and wildlife would not be placed at risk because of hazardous substances, spots and areas are distinguished in the water bodies in which the content of hazardous substances may be too high due to mixing of substances. Today, such mixing areas for directing hazardous substances into nature have been established in the Paljassaare Bay for the effluent of Tallinn, in the Kuressaare Bay for the effluent of Kuressaare, the Pärnu Bay for the effluent of Pärnu, and the Gulf of Finland for the effluent of the area of Kohtla-Järve.

It is necessary to consistently reduce the possibilities that hazardous substances would end up in nature. Such substances are not created in the waste water treatment plant, but rather in industrial companies, which direct their waste water into the sewerage. The percentage of hazardous substances of domestic origin is generally small. Since it is most appropriate to treat these kinds of substances in their place of occurrence, the production technologies must be upgraded, the water treatment measures used in production must be improved or already used hazardous substances replaced with less hazardous ones.

At the same time, in the near future, many water companies must identify the substances their sewerage is actually managing and whether and what kind of measures it is possible to implement to prevent the hazardous substances ending up in nature.

Hazardous substances include for example heavy metals – mercury, silver, copper, lead, nickel, chromium, zinc, etc. Additionally, there are several synthetic substances originating from either medical products, pesticides or industrial processes. The content of hazardous substances in Estonian water bodies is generally within the limits, however, water bodies to which the effluent or precipitations are directed may be problematic.

There are also fraudulent cases, where hazardous substances are directed to water bodies in an unauthorised and secret manner.

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