Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Gulf of Riga, light industries, cloudy weather, industrial pollution, Soviet government
Like most former republics of the USSR, Latvia suffers the negative environmental legacy of decades of ecological and environmental mismanagement. Soviet economic policies favored the rapid buildup of heavy industries, which generate more pollution than do light industries. The Soviet government never implemented emission-control technologies, and industrial pollution continues to be a problem due to the high cost of upgrading or replacing existing technologies and facilities.
Industrial, agricultural, and municipal enterprises have produced dangerous levels of water pollution. Water pollution is especially severe in the Daugava River and the Gulf of Riga because of the outflow of untreated wastewater at Riga, which lacks an adequate sewage treatment plant, and industrial discharge from factories along the Daugava and its tributaries. In addition, chemicals and petroleum products at military bases have contaminated soil and groundwater.
Air pollution in Latvia is particularly heavy during windless, cloudy weather. The main air pollutants are sulfur dioxide, ammonia, phenols, formaldehyde, and nitrogen oxides. Latvia suffers from high levels of acid rain, which has defoliated more than half the country's trees. In addition, the extraction of peat continues to damage wildlife habitats. Environmental issues began to be discussed publicly in the late 1980s as part of Latvia's independence movement. The government has designated 12.5 percent (1997) of the country protected and has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, hazardous wastes, ozone layer protection, ship pollution, and wetlands.
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