An estimated 500—1,000 litres of toxic solvent leaked into the river Mätäjoki in Helsinki in May last year. A total of twelve cases of aggravated impairment of the environment, more than ever before, were brought to the attention of the Finnish Police last year, indicates a report drawn up by a national working group monitoring the nature and incidence of environmental crime.

In addition, the report shows that no cases of aggravated impairment of the environment were brought to the attention of authorities in 2012, while earlier the number of recorded cases has varied between seven and eleven.

The offences were related to negligence in storing, processing and disposing of waste.

Among the cases recorded last year were the leak of an estimated 500—1,000 litres of toxic solvent from a paint factory into the river Mätäjoki in Helsinki and the dumping of hundreds of tonnes of toxic chemicals into the environment by a bankrupt recycling company in Padasjoki, Southern Finland.

The most common environmental offences committed in Finland are the mismanagement and dumping of soil, reveals Tarmo Lamminaho, an inspector at the National Police Board.

“[Soil] is taken to areas where it shouldn't be taken in an attempt to avoid costs. It's thereby possible to acquire financial gain, a typical feature of more serious environmental offences,” he says.

The authors of the report duly caution that if dumping becomes more commonplace in the construction and demolition sector, it can impair the profitability of companies operating within the boundaries of the law.

In Finland, the penalties imposed for environmental offences are generally lenient. For example, the burying of substantial amounts of construction waste only carries the penalty of a fine, even if the financial gains acquired by the offender were considerable.

On the other hand, companies may be later ordered to reimburse the costs incurred in repairing the damage to the environment.

“In such cases, the assets of the company have typically disappeared. Often, the environment is restored with public funds,” Lamminaho points out.

Iisakki Härmä – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Kaisa Rautaheimo / HS