Study commissioned by John Nurminen Foundation confirms risk for major phosphorus leaks from phosphogypsum stacks in Gdansk and Police, Poland

Foundation commissioned report to support HELCOM assessment

The John Nurminen Foundation has commissioned a risk assessment of phosphogypsum stacks that have been formed as a result of phosphorus production in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea. The study was made by engineering and consulting company Pöyry. According to the assessment, there is a risk of a major leakage from the Fosfory gypsum pile located in Gdansk, Poland, potentially as high as 500 tonnes of phosphorus annually. In addition, the largest phosphogypsum stack in the Baltic Sea region, located in Police in the western coast of Poland, may leak hundreds of tons of phosphorus annually.

In the spring of 2012, the John Nurminen Foundation worked in co-operation with the Russian company EuroChem to stop the leakage to the Luga River from EuroChem’s fertilizer factory situated in Kingisepp, northwestern Russia. As a result of the co-operation, the phosphorus discharges that previously amounted to as high as 1700 tons annually are now being treated.

After the Luga River leakage became public, concern over other similar sources in the Baltic Sea catchment area was expressed by the organizations involved in the protection of the Baltic Sea. Possible leakages from the fertilizer industry within the catchment area of the Baltic Sea have consequently been assessed by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM together with the member states of the Commission. The results of the HELCOM study are being discussed in the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD) meeting, organized this week in Helsinki.

To support HELCOM’s work, the John Nurminen Foundation wanted to provide HELCOM an independent outside assessment of the discharges from the high risk stacks and the preventive environmental protection measures implemented. The idea was to provide the report as background material for the HELCOM Heads of Delegation Meeting, which is the highest decision-making body within HELCOM after the Ministerial Meeting. The draft report, completed in the second week of June, was shared on June 14 with the participants of the HOD Meeting.

According to the Pöyry assessment, there are two phosphogypsum stacks with a high risk for phosphorus discharges, namely the stacks located in Gdansk and Police, Poland.

The environmental protection measures implemented at the phosphogypsum stack in Gdansk are not sufficient, and therefore phosphorus discharges could total over 500 tons per year at worst. The size of the stack is some 17 million tons. The basic measure in management of discharges of stacks, the so called hydraulic insulation, in which the water level in ditches collecting leachate waters from the stack is constantly maintained below the surface water level, has not been implemented in Gdansk. To realize hydraulic control, leachate waters from the stack should be pumped into purification instead of the current practice in which leachates are pumped back to the stack. In addition, a vertical barrier preventing discharges to the environment should be constructed around the stack.

The phosphogypsum stack in Police, western Poland, is the largest in the Baltic Sea region, totaling some 90 million tons. According to the estimate of Pöyry, some 170 tons of phosphorus may leak from the stack to the environment annually. As leachates are pumped into a municipal waste water treatment plant, it has been possible to implement hydraulic insulation. The stack, however, has no vertical barrier extending down to subsoil, which would prevent discharges to the environment.

In Kingisepp, Russia, the very lack of a vertical protection barrier had in the course of years caused phosphorus leakage to the bog area adjacent to the stack. Preventive measures had already been started some five years ago, when a decision was made to construct a tight clay barrier around the stack. In addition, in March 2012 the phosphorus discharges that had leaked into the environment earlier and were leaching to the river Luga with surface water run-off were directed into purification.

You can read the report here (note here the revised version).

Additional information:

Marjukka Porvari
Director, Clean Sea Projects
John Nurminen Foundation
Tel. +358 41 549 1535
e-mail: firstname.lastname@jnfoundation.fi

The Clean Baltic Sea projects of the John Nurminen Foundation improve the status of the Baltic Sea. Eutrophication is the most serious environmental problem faced by the Baltic Sea. Signs of eutrophication include the blooms of blue-green algae encountered every summer. The most efficient way to prevent eutrophication is to cut the phosphorus loads discharged to the sea. The target of the Foundation’s phosphorus removal projects is to reduce the annual phosphorus discharges entering the sea by 2,500 tonnes by 2015: this equals one sixth of the total target of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM. The Tanker Safety project aims at reducing the risk of oil spills with the introduction, to be implemented in 2013, of the new, enhanced navigation support information system ENSI for all tankers sailing the Baltic Sea. The Foundation finances its environmental operations with private donations and public funding.