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'Tallinn stink' may be from down the sink

Jul 26, 2006
by Joel Alas

TALLINN - For weeks now, mystified Tallinn residents who have drifted toward the seashore have been asking 's what is that terrible smell? To answer: A pungent odor has been brewing along the seafront near the war monument at Maarjamae thanks to warm weather and rotting algae. It wafts into the nostrils of passers-by as they zoom along the seafront highway toward the beach.

While residents have been merely discomforted by the offending odor, Tallinn City Council's environmental department director, Madis Korvits, was more concerned about a potential environmental hazard.
Water tests carried out for the council by the Estonian Environmental Research Center found the smell was unpleasant but probably not dangerous, Korvits said. "This is a smell we have every year when the weather gets hot and there isn't much wind," he said.

Still, he added that the center ordered microbiology and chemical tests, and they discovered "some sort of pollution coming from the storm water outlets nearby."
The tests were taken on July 11 at the peak of the summer heatwave. Korvits said the main culprit appeared to be rotting algae, which brews in the shallow stagnant water during hot weather.
"The bay area at this part of the beach is very still. There is not much water movement, and it is not very deep. Therefore, the water is standing there, and the algae is starting to rot. That is where the bad smell is coming from," Korvits said.

However, Korvits also suspects that Soviet-era pollution may be to blame. The area was known to be a dumping ground for industrial waste. In particular, a large volume of pulp and discharge from a paper mill may have been flushed into the bay.
"We have suspicions that there is some very old sediment still there, processing itself, and when the water is not moving the sediment can create a smell," Korvits said.

Further, traces of household sewage was discovered in the tests, indicating a leak in the city's aging and tangled pipe system.
"Tallinn's sewage system is very old, and the pipes are very long. It is nearly impossible to predict where such sewage pollution might be coming from. It is possible that some household waste is being flushed into the storm water system, and comes out into the bay. But it is already so diluted that it is not too dangerous," Korvits said.
"The water is not as unsafe as it smells," he stressed.

As he explained, the pollution dilutes very quickly in the water. Samples from the outlet were taken, as well as from the surrounding area. Nearby, the tests indicated that the water is already rather clean, much cleaner than from in front of the outlet, Korvits said.
"It might be a good idea to clean up the beach from the algae, but maybe it is not worth the money and time, as this is only a problem during the hot period, which is very short in Estonia. This is something we might just have to stand.
Still, some residents might need more convincing before they decide to bathe at the seaside spot, which has now earned a nickname amongst locals 's "smelly beach."
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