Grubby Sweden

Sweden has long prided itself on its clean streets and pristine environment. Several stories last week reported threats to this agreeable state of affairs from both likely and unlikely sources.

Friday’s SvD reported a survey conducted by Stockhom’s statistical analysis unit on 600 of its citizens on what they considered to be the city’s most serious environmental problem. Top of the list was traffic, mentioned by 49% of respondents. Next came litter and graffiti with 46%.

Kungsholmen and Södermalm are two quarters blighted by litter and graffiti respectively. Birgitta Waller (Green Party), chairman of Kungsholmen’s district council, commented: “There’s been a change in attitudes. People aren’t so careful any more about clearing up after themselves.”

She hopes that a strategy of advertising and erecting signs in parks will gradually reverse the trend.

Södermalm is particularly affected by graffiti and the district council spends 800,000 crowns every year trying to get rid of it. They look at the problem from a social perspective and have had success identifying youngsters in danger of getting into serious trouble. However, they are struggling to implement their policies due to the number of agencies involved: SL, the police, private property and business owners, schools and social workers.

“It’s a bit of a soup, which makes it difficult to co-ordinate the cleaning,” said Susanne Leinsköld of Katarina-Sofia district council.

Elsewhere in Stockholm, a clean up operation on a slightly larger scale is also threatened by an inter-agency ‘soup’.

Sunday’s SvD reported that local government environmental officers have recently surveyed a number of de-commissioned industrial sites and found alarming levels of pollution. Director of Planning and Environment, Lars Nyberg, said: “We’re paying for the environmental sins of the past and the cost of the clean up operation promises to be enormous.”

The findings come as bad news for Nacka municipality, which had been planning to build flats on three of the worst affected sites and create a nature reserve on a fourth. This includes Kvarnholm, a former oil depot, which has high levels of arsenic and lead in the soil and contaminated ground water.

Dea Carlsson, responsible for the decontamination project at the Environmental Protection Agency, got her excuses in early by having a go at Stockholm City Council and central government.

The Council apparently makes things difficult by insisting on transporting hazardous waste to distant Värmland and of the government, Carlsson said: “Waste can be managed safely without the involvement of the Ministry of the Environment, which often takes years to deal with these projects.”

In Gothenburg, Monday’s GP reported that city officials are threatening to use legislation against owners of buildings with copper roofs. The reason is that copper deposits get into the rain water and cause unacceptable levels of pollution. The Sahlgrenska Hospital, with 16,400 square metres of copper roof, and the Swedish Church, with 30 copper-domed churches, are in danger of being cast as polluting pariahs.

A small brook running through Gothenburg’s popular Botanical Gardens is apparently one of the country’s most polluted stretches of water. The finger of blame has been pointed at the hospital, a couple of hundred metres upstream. Both flora and fauna have been seriously affected.

The problem is how to stop it. Possible solutions are the use of pine bark filters in gutters, which has had success in Linköping; or limestone, which is being tested by the Church.

But let’s get things in perspective. Stockholm’s town hall discharges seven kilos of copper into Mälaren every year, Gothenburg’s tobacco factory is responsible for five kilos escaping into the Göta river. And the city’s Rya oil terminal? That releases 1,000 kilos into the sea and almost 6,000 kilos into the silt.