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Baltic nations optimistic on cleanup pledges

'Green' caps for old landfills tested
Beltsville, Md. (UPI) Feb 9, 2011 - U.S. researchers say they're working on a "green" way to cap old landfills that could reduce emissions and protect water quality. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Pat Millner says capping or sealing old landfills with trees and shrubs, planted in a mix of topsoil and compost, instead of the traditional clay caps, will reduce methane emissions while preventing rainfall from penetrating into the municipal waste and then leaching into groundwater, a USDA release said Wednesday.

A pilot project has been started on part of a long-abandoned, 30-acre municipal landfill in Beltsville, Md., where a newly planted forest canopy will contribute to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay by sequestering carbon and filtering runoff in waterways in the area that drain into tributaries of the Bay, researchers say. The Maryland Department of the Environment says it is watching the pilot project closely, since there are numerous landfills statewide that would benefit from this alternative closure approach. Vegetative caps are gaining acceptance from state agencies as a sustainable practice, and the Environmental Protection Agency sees the Maryland project as a potential model, the USDA release said.
by Staff Writers
Helsinki (AFP) Feb 10, 2011
The governments of Baltic Sea nations reported progress Thursday in their pledges to clean up the body of water, but environmentalists said real change was still far off.

"We hope to get rid of the muddy waters in the Baltic Sea, to get back a clear blue sea, and no later than the year 2020," Finnish Minister for Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors told a summit of the Baltic Sea Action Group here.

The aim of the meeting was to present a one-year progress report after the first summit, where eleven Baltic nations, as well as various institutes and organisations vowed in various ways to improve sewage treatment, to monitor or reduce nitrate and phosphate pollution from agriculture, and to improve cross-border co-operation in water management and protection.

Participants announced that 74 percent of these goals were "progressing", while 12 percent were completed and 14 percent had gone nowhere.

Environmentalists meanwhile said they felt the pledges themselves would not make much of a difference, nor could any significant change be expected in just one year.

"Many of these commitments were things that the countries were already doing or required to do anyway," Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) researcher Seppo Knuutila told AFP.

For example, he said, the biggest polluter, Poland, pledged to improve waste water treatment and phase out phosphates in dish soaps, two things already required by European Union directives when the country joined the bloc.

Scientists largely agree that the single biggest problem in the Baltic Sea is nitrates and phosphates from industrial agriculture, which cause the eutrophication of the sea bed, depleting the shallow waters of oxygen and asphyxiating plant and animal life.

"Even if all the goals were reached now, it would not seriously reduce agricultural waste... If agriculture stays the same or grows, it's very hard to decrease the pollution by a third, which is the goal," Knuutila said.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen meanwhile announced at the summit that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had promised his country would host next year's summit.

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Spanish prosecutors, ecologists urge action on pollution
Madrid (AFP) Feb 9, 2011
Spain's public prosecutors joined environmental groups Wednesday in demanding emergency measures to clear a thick layer of smog lingering over Madrid that medics warned could have grave health effects. Both Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's two largest cities, have seen their levels of atmospheric pollution rise due a high pressure system lodged over the Iberian peninsula that prevents the pollu ... read more

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