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Glorious summer sunshine: the downside

12 Jul 2005, 18:18

Published: 12 Jul 2005 18:18 GMT+02:00

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The current heatwave is all very well for Sweden's legions of sun-worshippers, but it's not all good news. The hot weather also means danger, financial hardship and health problems for some of us.

The most prominent side-effect has been the invasion of blooming algae along Sweden's south east coast. From the Stockholm archipelago down to Blekinge and all round the holiday island of Gotland, expectant bathers have been faced with a particularly unappetising thick green stinking sludge. It's the annual blooming of the Baltic algae. But due to the heat and sunshine, it's earlier than normal and in unprecedented quantities.

The algae is cyanobacteria and thrives on high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous. These have come in recent years from a storm two years ago which drove a lot of salt water into the Baltic from the Kattegatt and waste from artificial fertilisers and sewage.

The algae isn't just unpleasant. There are two indistinguishable types, one of which is toxic, causing illness in humans and sometimes death to animals.

"Dogs and cattle can die," said Martin Hansson of SMHI weather service. "Dogs get it on their coats and try to lick it off. Humans get flu-like symptoms and skin irritation."

Forest fires usually follow hot on the heels of a heatwave and the last week or so has been no exception. The potential for disaster is intensified this summer by the swathes of felled forest in southern Sweden which have yet to be cleared following storm Gudrun in January.

Not only do the millions of trees form maybe the world's largest pile of kindling, but they also make it extremely difficult to access any fires which break out.

The most serious fire so far broke out in a storm-ravaged area of Småland near Ljungby last week. Four hectares of trees burned before the fire was extinguished thanks to water bombs being dropped by helicopters and local farmers filling a ditch network with barrels of water.

In the event of a really serious fire, Sweden hopes to be able to call on the EU to provide specially adapted 'scoop' planes. They can scoop up 6000 litres of water from lakes or the sea and dump it on the affected area.

"They worked very well for us ten years ago," said fire expert Leif Sandahl of the Rescue Services Agency.

Skåne's farmers are also hoping for some relief soon with a bit of rain, or at least cooler weather.

Fredrik Jörgensen reckons he could lose up to a quarter of his corn crop.

"The crops are a lot lighter in colour than they should be at this time of year. That's because of the drought," he said.

As well as corn, rape, peas and grazing pastures are also hit hard by the heat and lack of rain. In this weather, corn ripens prematurely leading to a reduced crop. The next week could be decisive for many farmers.

"If this weather continues, a quarter of my crop could whither. That's a year's pay for me," said Jorgensen.

Story continues below…

Experts have also warned of the health risks facing the elderly and other vulnerable groups such as those with heart or lung conditions in extended periods of hot weather. This year has also been troublesome for hayfever sufferers.

"Many of our patients complain of more eye irritation this year compared to other years," said nurse Anki Redhamre from Ystad in Skåne.

There have also been a number of people who have suffered hayfever for the first time due to the unusually lush grass.

The forecast is for continued sunshine over the next few days, although it promises to be a couple of degrees cooler. Some rain is expected at the weekend.

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