The Baltic Sea is full of pharmaceutical pollutants, a report by UNESCO and the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) shows. Water treatment plants filter out only some of the pharmaceutical substances released into wastewater, while most end up in the region's rivers.
The study found that municipal wastewater treatment plants released water containing paracetamol, caffeine, ibuprofen, codeine, diclofenac and other pharmaceuticals.
According to rough estimates, about 1,800 tons of pharmaceuticals are released into the freshwater and marine environment in the Baltic Sea region per year. Only nine out of 118 assessed pharmaceuticals were effectively (over 95 percent) removed from wastewater during the treatment processes and nearly half of the compounds were removed only partially (efficiency of less than 50 percent).
Lithuania's Environmental Protection Agency has told LRT.lt that it monitors pharmaceutical pollutants in four of the country's rivers, but it is not part of the national Baltic Sea and Curonian Lagoon environmental monitoring program.
The main source of pharmaceuticals in the Baltic Sea and the region's rivers is wastewater, according to the agency. It also says it is currently studying the need to up water treatment requirements.
Poor storage and disposal of medical waste is another source of pharmaceutical pollutants, according to the UNESCO and HELCOM study.
Professor Mindaugas Remeika of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University says that the Baltic Sea region is no different from other parts of the world in terms of wastewater treatment and pharmaceutical pollutants.
“I think people in the Baltic Sea region are quite like people by the Mediterranean or any other sea. Wastewater treatment facilities are the same – there won't be any essential differences between plants in Kaunas, Klaipėda or Stockholm,” Remeika tells LRT.lt.
The problem, he says, is global.
“There are so many syringes and tampons in sewage system that it sometimes beggars belief.”
The Baltic Sea is the most polluted water body in the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's report last year.