Myllypuro Case

Marika Korpilaakso IENV-4
Kaarina Lappalainen IENV-4
Tarja Sahi IENV-3
 

Tampere Polytechnic

Environmental Economics

8.2.2000


MYLLYPURO CASE - One of the most serious environmental accidents ever in Finland

The history of Myllypuro landfill site

The old landfill site of Herttoniemi was closed down at the end of 1953 due to extensive emittance of odour. In the following year the new Herttoniemi landfill site was opened to serve the eastern parts of the city. This new landfill site was later, in the 1970s, constructed as a housing area of Myllypuro.

Besides community waste also animal carcases, waste oil, sludge and sulphur acid from the local gas company and cleansing waste from local margarine factory were brought to the landfill site. These toxic compounds however were leaked to the surrounding environment through sand eskers into the ground and surface waters. The environmental catastrophe was ready when the nearby forest was dying and the toxic waste reached the local beach. The Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reacted to this by writing an article called "Waste oil is destroying forest in Herttoniemi." in 1957. The city had to stop transports of all harmful and toxic wastes to the landfill sites. Later on due to economic reasons the gas company was given a special permission to continue using the landfill site, if it would neutralise its sulphur acid with lime. However, there were not much to be done since the environmental catastrophe had already taken place and the city did not have enough resources to supervise the contents of wastes brought to the site.

In June 1962 the landfill site was closed, however not because of the environmental impacts, but because the site had become full. The most obvious reason was that the new construction area of Myllypuro needed the space.

The construction of Alakiventie 4-8 in Myllypuro

When authorities approved the new town plan in 1974 they were unaware of the toxic substances in the area and the possible effects on health were not discussed. On the contaminated land 11 block of flats were constructed. It was important to built apartments at the time when there was a shortage on apartments, and furthermore close by the subway. It was important alleviate to the housing shortage especially felt among families with children. Authorities were delighted that the landfill site could be used for some other purpose. Environmental issues were not important and the environmental awareness was not so good. The only necessary procedure was to repair the damages to landscape.

Facts about the Myllypuro housing area

Myllypuro is located in eastern Helsinki 10km from the city centre. Nowadays approximately 9000 people live in Myllypuro surrounded by nature. Most people living in Myllypuro have rented apartment or they have owner occupied apartments. The people in Myllypuro represents a variety of different backgrounds, for example 6% are Finnish-Swedish, approximately 10% are foreigners and 11% have a foreign background. There are 36% of people aged 40-64 and 21% of people aged 25-39. The number of unemployed people has remained high, there are approximately 24% of unemployed people living in the area. Myllypuro provides basic services, but usually are required to take the subway elsewhere.

Dramatic Discovery

During the 80's and 90's the residence in Alakiventie 8 repaired the cracked drainpipes, yard plates and the signs of ground subsidence. The shareholders of the residence naturally paid all the repair work. In November 13, 1998 the drainpipes had to be repaired again. This time, the shareholders wanted to know the reason for the subsidence in front of the building. When the excavating machine removed the soil deeper, from the depth of vast one meter, the stink from the hole did not leave anything under suspicion. The authorities from the environmental center of Helsinki were contacted in order to take a sample to be analysed.

17th of December 1998 Helsingin Sanomat wrote that environmental poisons had been found in Myllypuro residential area. The found substances were among others, cyanide, PAH, PCB and heavy metals and oils; all of them are toxic. They all originated from the industrial wastes from waste dump below the houses. Some of the residents did not even know that they had bought their home situated on an old landfill, and were horrified. Some of them knew, but thought everything to be under control and even the environmental center was surprised about the poisons.

At first, no one could say anything about the impacts of the discovery on the health of the residents, but on Monday 21.12.98 the people living in that area were informed that there is no immediate danger caused by the soil contamination. The inner air measurements showed that there was no poisonous gases inside the apartments or in the kindergarten of the area. Still, city of Helsinki announced that it would organise health research for the inhabitants and that it would take care of all costs concerning research on soil contamination and possible renovation measures.

Research in Myllypuro

Before the discovery in November '98, during the years 1996 and 1997 there had been research by Viatek Oy in the area about the environmental loading of the leaking waters from the dump to the surrounding nature. There was nothing urgent noticed that time. In autumn '98 the research work continued in order to investigate the drainage and renovation measures near the leakage area, but soon after the discovery in Alakiventie 8, Viatek concentrated to investigate the inner air gas concentrations and groundwater situation and the soil. Because the industrial waste had been spread randomly on the dump in the past, there were also clean parts in the previous dump area.

On March 3, 1999 the city of Helsinki confirmed to the residents of the Alakiventie that, according to the measurements, the concentrations of VOC and PAH compounds in the inner air in their apartments do not differ from the usual situation in the residences in Helsinki. Nearly two months from that, Viatek Oy reports that their measurements concerning the soil showed the concentrations of the chemicals and metals found in Myllypuro to be very high and exceeding all recommendations hundred fold, as shown in table 1.

Table 1. Results of the soil contamination analyse made in spring 1999 by Viatek Oy from Myllypuro old landfill site.

Procedures and Actions with the Myllypuro Case

On 1st of June 1999 the city of Helsinki organizes the third occasion for the residents of Alakiventie and tell about the serious contamination and their dramatic evacuation plan. All 11 buildings constructed on the dump (Alakiventie 4-8) would be destroyed and the area renovated for a park. All 500 inhabitants of which the majority lives on rent in houses are owned by the city were about to be relocated. The tenants from Alakiventie 4 and 6 pass the city housing queues and all residents will receive 6000 FIM moving subsidy if they move away in reasonable time. Also the kindergarten Leipuri had to close its doors, which happened in the beginning of this year waiting to be torn down at earliest in March or April. The authorities of the city of Helsinki have recommended that all apartments should be empty by the end of August 2000.

The most difficult question was and is still with the Alakiventie 8, which is privately owned residence, consisting 101appartments, located on the plot rented until the year 2040 from the city of Helsinki. The city has offered to buy these apartments and pay some compensation for the costs. Tearing down the block of flats on Alakiventie 4-8 has been estimated to cost in some estimations approximately 170 million FIM. The other alternative would have been the complete removal of contaminated land without removing the apartments. In this case the costs would have been tripled and the residents should have been evacuated for almost four years.

Future visions

Environmental institute and National Health institution together will organise an epidemiological health study for the residents, aiming to find out whethet the landfill site have had negative effects on health.

The renovation of the landfill site will cost approximately 130million FIM for the city of Helsinki. To prevent the leakage of harmful substances to the surrounding environment with the purpose to build a park above the contaminated land. The landfill wastes will be handled elsewhere, and are then isolated deep down into the ground. The filling material needed for the construction of the park. will be crushed concrete. In case toxic waste is found it will be uplifted for further treatment elsewhere. Rubble from the torn houses will be partly recycled for example metals and concrete elements will be used in road construction and as filling material.

In has been planned to build nearby the landfill site two new housing blocks. The new housing blocks would provide as many apartments as were torn down.

Impacts of Myllypuro Case

The Myllypuro case is full of conflicts especially between the residents in Alakiventie and the city of Helsinki.

Uncertain State of Health

There has not been showed any scientific evidence in health studies yet that the landfill would have caused negative impacts on the health of the residents in Alakiventie 4-8. Unfortunately the way how people have been examined has found out to be questionable; "Ethän halua tutkimuksiin..." This way there is a risk that the health effects of the case will never come out and when people are spread all over Helsinki there will be no statistical peaks in diseases if the health research concerning these people is not continuous.

In any case, the residents of Alakiventie 4-8 have to live always with the uncertainty about health issues and mental and psychological stress caused by this radical change in their lives. Still, there are long-term risks concerning diseases, cancer other illnesses related to the toxic waste. It must tell also something that during the construction in the 70's many workers vomited and had headache etc. and only three of them have survived this far...

Money runs over people

Tenants have been relocated to new buildings, where the rents are much more expensive, and the price that the city has offered of the privately owned flats is far too low for getting an apartment of same level and from as excellent distance that Myllypuro is from the center of Helsinki. Myllypuro also had good services and metro and highway connections. Moving somewhere else may cause longer work trips and change in the lifestyle. Especially children must change school or kindergarten, which is often very problematic for a child, and the elderly people would have enjoyed more living in familiar surrounding instead of moving away to old people's home. For both of these groups a functioning and safe society breaks up.

Economic issues are the most controversial in this Myllypuro case, which is first of its kind. Because of this, city of Helsinki is in very new situation but same time is concerned about the future; does it bring more of these kind with big compensation demands, too. That is propably why city of Helsinki has been very "careful" in its actions. Especially the residents of Alakiventie 8 have claimed the authorities for handling their issues with a very arrogant attitude, the authorities do not inform properly and make decisions about Alakiventie 8 without asking their opinion. The authority responsibility is spread inside the city administration, the residents cannot find the right authorities and fight for their rights against the huge system and a faceless enemy.

People moving away have to take loans to get similar apartments in Helsinki, also the retired people, which is unreasonable for many, who just recently have succeeded to pay their old debt. The amount of wasted money is huge if you think about all privately paid renovations made inside and outside the apartments especially in Alakiventie 8. The residents have also had to take a lot of their time and money for finding a new place to live. Also the neighbours in Alakiventie 7 who stay in Myllypuro are very concerned about the value of their apartments during the next years when there will be huge renovation site next to their homes not to mention its disturbance (dust, poisons, noise).

Home for Home - Just a Beautiful Phrase?

The authorities promised "home for home", but because of the low price offer, this cannot be implemented. The situation is very twisted around because the share holders of Alakiventie 8 cannot sell their apartments in normal situation, the city of Helsinki is the only buyer and it has defined the price. It has been said to be optional to sell the apartments, but at the same time city of Helsinki wants everyone to move away by their deadline and this way give impression to the people that they have no other option than to sell the shares to the only buyer. The city of Helsinki has admitted that it has no other plan made than that the people will finally sell their apartments. By buying all the shares (flats) from the Alakiventie 8, city of Helsinki avoids its responsibility to pay compensation for breaking the contract made of land renting until the year 2040 and is free to tear the house down. City of Helsinki is somehow taking advantage of the victim position when hurrying the apartment deals; Buyer and seller are not in equal position. In the whole case there is all the time great hurry to do something and money runs over people.

Legality of the City Actions

According to the discussions with the lawyer of Alakiventie 8, city of Helsinki is claimed also to be breaking against the constitutional rights of the people when forcing them to sell their homes (omaisuuden suoja) and the public authority does not take care of its responsibility to ensure that every individual has right for accommodation. Also because the land is rented, there is question about carrying the responsibility of the land owner, who has built on the plot not good for housing, to renovate the land, why Alakiventie 8 residents should be paying for the catastrophe? City of Helsinki can neither make decisions of the plot, that the city has rented until 2040 and is the owner but does not manage it. Although city of Helsinki has already applied the environmental permit for the area. Alakiventie 8 has also made a reclamation about the planning proposal where a park is established to the old landfill site, even it is not possible because the land is not suitable for that purpose even after the renovation measures. It is also questionable that city of Helsinki does not follow the Waste Management Act, where it is said that best available technique should be used in these issues rather than letting money rule.

References

WWW- home pages of Alakiventie 8, http://www.kolumbus.fi/alakiventie8/, cited 26.1.2000
moved over to this site on August 2000; (=web-masters comment)

Articles in newspaper Helsingin Sanomat:

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=990603ka03, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=990602ka03, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=990902ka40, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=990604ka00, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=990604ka01, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=981217ka20, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=981218ka01, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www2.helsinginsanomat.fi/hakukone/arkisto.asp?artid=981222ka01, cited 31.1.2000

http:// www.nelonen.fi/uutiset/1196/6/1/myllypuro.htm, cited 31.1.2000

http://www.mediakylpyla.hel.fi/kodit/kapu/extra/minfo2.html, cited 31.1.2000

http://www.hel.fi/tietokeskus/702.htm, cited 31.1.2000

http://www.aamulehti.fi/arkisto/199906/19990603/19990603_koTalot.shtml, cited 31.1.2000

http://www.mtv3.fi/uuitset/arkisto/9906/990601/9906010136.html

http://www.hel.fi/ymk/ymkmy03a.htm, cited 31.1.2000

Discussions with Seppo Pyrrö, shareholder of Alakiventie 8, 31.1.2000 and