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Ambio. 2014 Apr;43(3):352-60. doi: 10.1007/s13280-013-0435-1. Epub 2013 Aug 31.

Nutrient abatement potential and abatement costs of waste water treatment plants in the Baltic Sea region.

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Department of Economics and Management, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 27, 00014, Helsinki, Finland,


We assess the physical potential to reduce nutrient loads from waste water treatment plants in the Baltic Sea region and determine the costs of abating nutrients based on the estimated potential. We take a sample of waste water treatment plants of different size classes and generalize its properties to the whole population of waste water treatment plants. Based on a detailed investment and operational cost data on actual plants, we develop the total and marginal abatement cost functions for both nutrients. To our knowledge, our study is the first of its kind; there is no other study on this issue which would take advantage of detailed data on waste water treatment plants at this extent. We demonstrate that the reduction potential of nutrients is huge in waste water treatment plants. Increasing the abatement in waste water treatment plants can result in 70 % of the Baltic Sea Action Plan nitrogen reduction target and 80 % of the Baltic Sea Action Plan phosphorus reduction target. Another good finding is that the costs of reducing both nutrients are much lower than previously thought. The large reduction of nitrogen would cost 670 million euros and of phosphorus 150 million euros. We show that especially for phosphorus the abatement costs in agriculture would be much higher than in waste water treatment plants.

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