Project activity is divided into work packages (T)
T1: Field studies and compilation of pressure and impact maps
The project will concentrate on selected priority substances included in the HELCOM Core Indicators list – trace metals (Cd, Cu, Hg, Pb, Ni, As, Zn), PAH, PCB, organotins, PFOS, phenols (alkylphenols) and pharmaceuticals (diclofenac, ibuprofen, synthetic oestrogen). The focus is mostly on coastal – river mouths (rivers Narva, Luga and Neva) and hotspot areas (e.g. the wastewater discharge zones in Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe, St. Petersburg, and Vyborg; new-constructed and acting ports in Sillamäe, Narva-Jõesuu, Ust-Luga, Bronka, Primorsk St. Petersburg). Also, deeper offshore accumulation areas in the Eastern GoF will be studied. The identification of sources of HS and means of discharge to the sea will be carried out based on literature and field surveys in the first year of the project. All PPs will be involved in data mining to obtain the background information of concentrations of selected HS in different matrices (water, sediment, biota) in the project area. The datasets of PPs will be assembled for the further use of initialising the modelling exercises. The inventory of available data will also enable to identify if the regions in focus of this project are covered with previous studies and plan the additional sediment and biota sampling for laboratory analysis during the project first year. As different species do not bioaccumulate substances at the same level, several species will be sampled and analysed. The environmental parameters (temperature, salinity, oxygen content, and sediment type) for the whole project area and in detail at the sampling locations will be described. The dispersion of HS from the major identified sources, as rivers and direct marine outfalls of WWTP, to the surrounding area will be modelled to define the potential accumulation areas. Based on the model results, the pressure maps to the marine environment, caused by HS discharges, will be compiled.
T2: Biological effects of harmful substances in the controlled environment- Laboratory exposure studies
The established HELCOM core indicators of HS cover substances of specific concern to the Baltic Sea as described in the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. These core indicators have regionally agreed on threshold values that are set based on knowledge of the eco-toxicity of the substances. At present, there are no indicators developed for pharmaceuticals. Also, the HELCOM Core indicators to monitor effects on biota has been developed only for the top-predator, the white-tailed eagle. In the frame of the project, we aim to develop monitoring methods for the lower trophic level organisms. In the Core activity T1, the list of HS is analysed from different matrices in the project area. In the Core activity T2, we will test the impact of selected (based on concentrations measured in the project area and previous knowledge about risks for human (e.g. carcinogenic for humans) HS on biotic indices: reproductive disorders (malformations, imposex), cardiac rhythm deviation biomarkers in controlled exposure experiments. As different species do not bioaccumulate substances at the same level when they are exposed to the same concentration of contaminants for the same period, we will test the effect on the local amphipods (Gmelinoides fasciatus, Gammarus oceanicus, Monoporeia affinis) and local bivalves (Limecola baltica, Anodonta anatina, Mytilus trossulus). Besides this, the widely varying environmental conditions (salinity, temperature, changes in pH, turbidity etc.) may affect the biological accessibility of pollutants. Hence, different exposure concentrations, time slots of exposure at varying environmental conditions will be tested to discover the animal’s response to the HS concentrations at longer and shorter exposure times at slightly different environmental conditions. Obtained results are necessary to recognise the actual concentrations of HS and their toxic effects on different sensitivity levels of the organism.
T3: Assessment of toxicity of field environments to biota with a set of chemical and biological indices
In the HELCOM region, it is agreed to use environmental quality standard (EQS) values for biota, rather than in water or sediment because the concentrations in the surrounding matrices are usually very low or under the detection limit. In Core activity T3 we use the knowledge obtained in T1 to identify potentially polluted and more or less unpolluted areas in the project region. By using the information from T1 and T2, we will conduct so-called transplant experiments with selected biota. The diverse variables in biota will be tested to distinguish relationships between the bad/good status of the environment and assess the health of its inhabitants. The biological effects will be tested at different coastal regions, using the transplantation approach for local benthic species (mainly molluscs). The diverse level of molecular biomarkers to population-community indices will be used. The effects on animal survival (bioassay with sediment) and reproductive orders (fecundity index, malformation frequency, imposex) will be studied. For testing the animals’ metabolic activity in the surrounding environment will be based on registration of aerobic metabolic rate and cardiac rhythm parameters of selected organisms after their transplantation between polluted and reference regions. “Early warning” toxic effects, recorded using so-called biomarkers, will be applied to detect exposure and effects of selected HS. Evaluation of suitability for the detection of the deleterious effects at a low level (molecular biomarkers) -a higher level of biological organisation responses (as reproduction and metabolism that have true significance for the well-being and development of populations and communities) need to be known. Empirically established linkages between “early warning” effects with damage, e.g., in reproduction, can thus enable a reliable prediction of higher-level effects by using relatively simple and high-throughput methods in toxicity assessments.
T4: Development of harmonised monitoring plan & environmental status assessment methods
Water and sediment quality indicators, concerning HS, are essential means for effective monitoring and regulation of the see environmental contaminants so as to protect aquatic ecosystems, valuable natural resources, and human health. The overall objective of the project is the adaptation and implementation of uniform biological indicators (developed and tested in the project) for harmonised monitoring and impact assessment of HS in the eastern Gulf of Finland. The main aim of T4 is to use the knowledge obtained in the core activities T1, T2 and T3 for that propose. In the project core activity T1, the available data of HS concentrations will be complemented with the sampling and analysis from different hotspots in the project area. The targeted sampling will allow detecting sources and pathways of HS. Based on that knowledge, the concepts for transnational monitoring of HS will be proposed. The knowledge obtained in core activities T2 and T3 will be used to develop indicators to be used for the biological effects monitoring in the eastern Gulf of Finland to facilitate a reliable assessment of HS, that has been emphasised also in the Baltic Sea Action Plan of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). Besides this, the impact assessments of HS are directly requested by the MSFD and the EU Waste Framework Directive. The project will carry out research on the effects of specific environmental conditions prevailing in different parts of the eastern Gulf of Finland, thus, contributing to policy-driven and solution-oriented research for the protection of the Baltic Sea.