The paper describes the spatial contamination of the River Kymijoki, South-Eastern Finland, and the coastal region of the Gulf of Finland with PCDD/Fs and mercury. The findings of ecotoxicologial and human health studies are also reported, including environmental and human risk assessments. Sediments from the River Kymijoki, draining into the Gulf of Finland, have been heavily polluted by the pulp and paper industry and by chemical industries. A wood preservative, known as Ky-5, was manufactured in the upper reaches of the river between 1940 and 1984 causing severe pollution of river sediments with polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD) and dibenzofurans (PCDF). Moreover, the sediments have been polluted with mercury (Hg) from chlor-alkali production and the use of Hg as a slimicide in pulp and paper manufacturing.
An extensive sediment survey was conducted as well as sediment transport modeling, toxicity screening of sediment invertebrates, and a survey of contaminant bioaccumulation in invertebrates and fish. Studies on human exposure to PCDD/Fs and the possible effects on hypermineralization of teeth as well as an epidemiological study to reveal increased cancer risk were also conducted. An assessment of the ecological and human health risks with a null hypothesis (no remediation) was undertaken.
The sediment survey revealed severe contamination of river and coastal sediments with PCDD/Fs and Hg. The total volume of contaminated sediments was estimated to reach 5x10(6) m3 and hot spots with extremely high concentrations (max 292,000 ng g(-1) or 1,060 ng I-TEQ g(-1) d.w.) were located immediately downstream from the pollution source (approximately 90,000 m3). Sediment contamination was accompanied by changes in benthic assemblages, but direct effects were masked by many factors. The fish showed only slightly elevated PCDD/F levels in muscle, but orders of magnitude higher in the liver compared with reference freshwater sites and the Baltic Sea. The concentrations in human fat did not reveal high human exposure in the Kymijoki area in general and was lower than in sea fishermen. The relative risk for total cancer among farmers was marginally higher (RR=1.13) among those living close to the river, compared with farmers living further away, and the possibility of increased cancer risk cannot be ruled out. A conservative risk assessment revealed that the present probability of exceeding the WHO upper exposure limit of 4 pg WHO-TEQ kg(-1) d(-1) for PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs was 6%. The probability of exceeding the WHO limit value of 0.23 mug kg(-1) d(-1) for methyl mercury was estimated to be notably higher at 62%. Based on these studies and the estimated risks connected with different remediation techniques a general remediation plan with cost benefit analysis was generated for several sub-regions in the river. Dredging, on-site treatment, and a close disposal of the most contaminated sediments (90,000 m3) was suggested as the first phase of the remediation. The decision regarding the start of remediation will be made during autumn 2008.
The sediments in the River Kymijoki are heavily polluted with PCDD/Fs and mercury from earlier chlorophenol, chlor-alkali, and pulp and paper manufacturing. A continuous transport of contaminants is taking place to the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. The highly increased PCDD/F and Hg levels in river sediments pose an ecotoxicological risk to benthic fauna, to fish-eating predators and probably to human health. The risks posed by mercury exceed those from PCDD/Fs and need to be evaluated for (former) chlor-alkali sites and other mercury releasing industries as one basis for remediation decision making.
The studies form the basis of a risk management strategy and a plan for possible remediation of contaminated sediments currently under consideration in the Southeast Finland Regional Environment Centre. It is recommended that a detailed restoration plan for the most seriously contaminated areas should be undertaken. Based on current knowledge, the restoration of the whole river is not feasible, considering the current risk caused by the contaminated sediment in the river and the costs of an extensive restoration project. The experiences gained in the present case should be utilized in the evaluation of PCDD/F- and mercury-contaminated sites in other countries. The case demonstrates that the historic reservoirs are of contemporary relevance and should be addressed, e.g., in the national implementation plans of the Stockholm Convention.