State of the Environment

State of the environment

The state of the environment in the Inari – Pasvik River area is mostly affected by the emissions of industry in the Kola Peninsula, such as acidifying sulfur compounds and heavy metals that are detrimental for the environment.

Pollutants are dispersed around the various regions of the border area in different ways depending on the prevailing winds, flow direction of water and the distance from the emissions’ source. The most polluted area is the immediate vicinity of the emission sources, where significant quantities of sulfur dioxide and heavy metals have almost entirely destroyed the vegetation over the years. This industrial wasteland that has formed in the impact area of emissions covers hundreds of square kilometres. Prevailing winds mainly disperse airborne emissions to a north-easterly direction.

Sulfur dioxide emissions have significantly reduced over the last 20 years. Nevertheless, in some parts of the border area the sulfur dioxide concentrations are unreasonably high. In the town of Nikel, in the heart of the emissions’ sources, sulfur dioxide concentration in the air is three times greater than the permitted threshold value. Heavy metal emissions have not fallen at all, and based on the deposition measurements conducted in Norway, these emissions may have even increased recently.

Acidifying sulfur compounds reduced

The environments in different regions react in different ways to acidic deposition. The first signs of improvement in water quality can be seen in some lakes of the Vätsäri and Jarfjord areas that are naturally sensitive to acidification.


Acidification means that soil or water bodies are losing their capacity to neutralize (buffer) acidic deposition.

Acidifying compounds are deposited with rain as wet deposition or with particles and gases as dry deposition.

Furthermore, recovery of the fish populations of some lakes has been verified.

The condition of the terrestrial ecosystem can be monitored for instance by estimating the quantities of lichen sensitive to acidification. Satellite images show that the lichen coverage has increased in the area over a ten-year period (1994 – 2004). Terrestrial lichen species have started to return ten kilometres west of the smelter, and signs of the recovery of epiphytic lichens have been seen on the trunks and branches of trees 70 kilometres west from the smelter.

Heavy metals are a long-term problem

The heavy metal emissions of the border area have not been reduced at all. Monitoring findings even indicate that nickel fallout has increased over the past few years.

Heavy metal concentrations in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems fall dramatically as the distance from the smelter increases. However, elevated heavy metal concentrations are evident in the sediments of lakes and rivers, soils and plants even up to a distance of 50 kilometres from the smelter. The accumulation of heavy metals in mosses and pine needles has increased over the past 20 years. In respect to heavy metals, the problem of pollution is worsened by the fact that they will not disappear from the cycle at all, as they will pass through the food chain, ending up in large predators.

The impacts of emissions of the Pechenganikel plant are most clearly evident in the Pasvik River. Pollutants travel to the downstream sections of the river along with wastewater and by air. Heavy metal and sulfur concentrations, as well as organic compound quantities are highest close to the smelters and decrease when moving downstream. In the upstream sections of the river above the emissions’ sources the concentrations of harmful substances are distinctly lower than in the downstream sections that are exposed to wastewater.

No fall in concentration levels has been noticed in the River Pasvik watercourse over the ten-year monitoring period. The impacts of pollutants in practice can be seen, for instance, in fish which accumulate these harmful substances. In the most polluted areas, malformations of fish tissues and internal organs have been observed, including, for instance, kidney stones. The concentrations of harmful substances and the amount of malformations in fish fall as the distance from the emission sources increases.

Further information about the state of the border area environment is found from these pages and publications:

Stebel, K., Christensen, G.N., Derome J. and Grekelä I. (editors). 2007.
State of the Environment in the Norwegian, Finnish and Russian Border Area. The Finnish Environment 6/2007

Carolyn Symon (Environmental Editing Ltd)
Pasvik Programme - Summary Report 2008.

Puro-Tahvanainen, A., Zueva, M., Kashulin, N., Sandimirov, S., Christensen, G.N. and Grekelä, I. 2011.
Pasvik Water Quality Report. Environtal Monitoring Programme in the Norwegian, Finnish and Russian Border Area

Ylikörkkö, J., Zueva, M., Kashulin, N., Kashulina, T., Sandimirov, S., Christensen, G., Jelkänen, E. 2014
Pasvik Water Quality until 2013

Rautio, P., Poikolainen, J. 2014:
State of the terrestrial environment in the joint Finnish, Norwegian and Russian border area on the basis of bioindicators. Final technical report of the Pasvik Environment Monitoring Programme

Ylikörkkö, J, Christensen, G.N., Kashulin, N., Denisov, D., Andersen, H.J., Jelkänen, E. (edit.) 2015:
Environmental Challenges in the Norwegian, Finnish and Russian Border Area

Image: Jukka Ylikörkkö