Indicator in focus: Total phosphorus and nitrate concentrations in rivers, selected EU and accession countries
Although concentrations of phosphorus decreased in both the EU and the accession countries during the 1990s, nitrate concentrations remained relatively unchanged. The decline in phosphorus concentrations can be attributed to improvements in wastewater treatment. Overall, concentrations of phosphorus and nitrates are much greater than natural or 'background levels'. Nitrate concentration is highest in the countries with highly intensive agricultural production, average in the accession countries and lowest in Nordic countries like Finland. In contrast to phosphorus, no clear trends for nitrates are evident although concentrations are lower in the accession countries due to the lower intensity of agriculture. A few countries, Latvia, Germany and Denmark, had indications of reduced river nitrate concentrations in the late 1990s. Overall, current concentrations of phosphorus and nitrate are still well above what might be considered natural or 'background' levels. More information can be found in chapter 11 of "Environmental Signals 2002"