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25 years dredged material policy in Hamburg

A. Netzband1, and G. Werner2

Abstract: For hundreds of years dredging has taken place in the Port of Hamburg to maintain water depths. In the second half of the last century, the contamination of sediments in the Elbe at times reached very high levels, particularly as a result of inadequate effluent treatment in former Eastern Europe. Until German reunification in 1989, Hamburg knew little about the causes of contamination in the dredged material from the Elbe, let alone had the opportunity to influence policy and eradicate these. Against this background Hamburg has developed and implemented a highly technical dredged material management concept. Today, the disposal of dredged material is multi-faceted, with relocation in the river being the most important solution. There is still around 1 million m3 of dredged material to be handled on land at great expense; further details of this are included in the contribution by (Detzner and Knies, 2004). Although 25 years ago public discussions also contributed to the development of this policy, today legal requirements create a narrow framework. The requirements are frequently those of the European Union. The Water Framework Directive may present a framework for solving the remaining problems of contamination. To ensure that dredged material can be handled properly in the future as well, joint efforts by those responsible for ports and waterways are necessary.

Keywords: dredged material, Hamburg, treatment, beneficial use, confined disposal, relocation

1 Behörde für Wirtschaft und Arbeit / Strom- und Hafenbau, 20457 Hamburg, Dalmannstrasse 1, Tel.: ++49 - (0)40 - 428 47 – 2791, Email: 2 Behörde für Wirtschaft und Arbeit / Strom- und Hafenbau, 20457 Hamburg, Dalmannstrasse 1, Tel.: ++49 - (0)40 - 428 47 – 2411, Email:

The next significant progress in dredging technology was the development of hydraulic transport of mixtures of water and solids in pipelines. As long ago as 1189 the city was granted the right to bring ships containing goods for Hamburg into the city without customs duties. the dredger barges had to be emptied by push carts for decades. In the Port of Hamburg. barge suction devices started to be used which could pump the dredged material over large distances and dump it in previously diked so called flushing areas. Fig. . Engineers later developed an overhead track system and barge loaders. In 1860 the depth of the navigation channel was around 4. A control commission existed to monitor this. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT The history of the Port of Hamburg goes back over 800 years. for landing bays and transshipment areas to be created and for new inner harbours to be constructed. progress was made gradually over time. Today Hamburg is one of the world’s top 10 container ports. We know that around 1530 there was a decree prohibiting the excavation of sand at certain points. In 1834 Hamburg imported the first mechanical chainand-bucket dredger from England. 16 m3/day. this led in around 1900 to the use of hopper suction dredgers.50 m. the Elbe has changed its appearance substantially in the Hamburg region over the past 200 years. for example. The Hamburg “Rotating Lighter” (around 1800) can be seen as the forerunner of the Hopper Dredger and could dredge approx. groyns etc. The nutrient-rich silt was often spread on agricultural land to improve the soil. This meant that material produced during maintenance work was also disposed of at the same time.1. 1: Steam dredger in 1877 Disposal of the dredged material had in earlier times posed no particular problem for the port and water authorities. Even before the industrial revolution. Basically there were two options: Replacing (relocation) in waterways in places where this did not hinder ships’ navigation or was planned as part of constructing water courses e. The dredged material produced in making the harbour deeper was always used to create new surfaces or raise levels. for industrial developments etc. far inland on the Elbe. Disposal on land: the dredged material could be used to raise low-lying areas. simple manually-operated dredging equipment such as silt collectors or sand wheels were in use. To make shipping possible and maintain sufficient depth of navigable water.50 m. in building side channels. Previously the river had been characterised by many main branches and tributaries which formed lots of large and small islands. and also the disposal of refuse and other materials. In disposal on land. today it is 14. around 1900. In the ports on the North Sea coast. This meant that a very economic option had been found. dredged material was used in large areas to extend ports. Finally. it has always been necessary to dredge the river. The tidal current is strong for this area. As a result of the expansion of the port.g. The port lies around 100 km from the North Sea. The growing port made it necessary for these to be connected.

was inadequate. but these remained far behind western standards. Even before reunification. large industrial enterprises grew up near the coal deposits in the Halle/Leipzig area. there were German-German talks on environmental protection. no results worth mentioning were achieved. although at the request of the GDR nothing was to be made public about the results of these and. in effect a user principle was applied. The worst contamination is clearly seen around 1970 and is at least 10 times the background value. THE ELBE AND ITS CATCHMENT AREA Hamburg lies on the Elbe. . The Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) lie within the German Elbe region. as far as the Elbe was concerned. After the First World War. concentration (mg/kg) depth (cm) Fig. nothing was known of its origin.For more than fifty years. which was probably caused at least in part by “clearance work”. Efforts were made in the GDR to reduce this environmental burden. however. in which 24. From time to time. there was a significant reduction in contaminants discharged in the river because of the collapse of whole industrial sectors. 1997) Until 9th November 1989 only the level of contamination in the Elbe water in Schnackenburg on the former German-German border could be measured. when available at all. In 1989. 2. However. particularly in wartime and under the conditions after the war created environmental pollution. Industrial effluent treatment. development work in the twentieth century was therefore characterised for the most part by technological advance and the scope of work undertaken also grew with the new technical possibilities. Constructing and operating these businesses. Tanneries and paper manufacture in Bohemia led from the 14th century onwards to substantial contamination of the water.000 km2.7 million people live. The rock material was placed on dumps from which metals were continuously leached. 2: Arsenic content in the drilling core of an alluvial soil from a floodplain area from the “Bucher Brack” at Tangermünde (from Prange et al. one of the great European rivers. an increase was also recorded. i. in recent decades completely different requirements have come to the fore. Highly toxic waste was partly dumped directly into waterways. Although the polluter pays principle was also applied in the GDR. and effluent flowed largely untreated into the rivers. Fig. All the major industrial regions of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) including the Berlin metropolis and the majority of the Czech Republic lie within the Elbe region. 2 shows the development over time of arsenic contamination in the drilling core of an alluvial soil some 100 km upstream Hamburg. and minerals have been mined and processed here since the Middle Ages.091 km long and has a catchment area of 148. One exception was a pilot plant for eliminating mercury during chlor-alkali electrolysis in the Bitterfeld chemical compound which succeeded in halving the mercury content even before 1989. The river is 1. Even shortly after reunification. After the Berlin wall came down. the situation changed dramatically. whoever wanted to use clean river water should pay for it.. domestic effluent treatment was only partially available in the GDR and often only as mechanical treatment.e.

The environmental groups carried out their own surveys and accused the Senate. the IKSE initiated a series of programmes with the aim of cleaning up in particular the main industrial complexes such as the chemical. the state government. between 1994 and 1999 loads for significant parameters were reduced between 50% and over 90%. In the 1990s the Elbe was intensively investigated and today we are well aware of which contaminant comes from where. 3 shows mercury contamination in suspended matter in 1993. . brownfield areas etc. 3: Concentration of mercury in suspended matter in a longitudinal section sample taken from the Elbe in 1993 (source on right. The North Sea saw its ammonia contamination from the Elbe reduced by 62 % compared with 1990. The disposal operation was hindered by protests (Fig. Elbe mouth on left. 1974. Investment of 3 billion € or 12. 1977). 4). sediment contamination in the vicinity of a copper mill in the port and the conventional dredged material land disposal were a focus for activists. “Grenze” is the German-Czech border. Major challenges still exist today. In addition to the drinking water supply and municipal wastewater treatment. such as abandoned mines. as well as to the Elbe. (Diagram by GKSS) In the early 1990s. REALISING SEDIMENT CONTAMINATION IN THE PORT OF HAMBURG The major contamination in the Elbe and its sediments was recognised in the 1970s as a result of various different investigations (like Förstner and Müller. which represent a hazard to soil and ground water. 3. The substantial increase in contamination as a result of discharge by the Czech company Spol-Chemie via the river Bilina becomes clear. Lichtfuss.1 billion Czech Krones was required. For current developments. The trigger for these investigations was not least the very active environmental movement which arose during the 1970s in Germany. see Fig. concentrating in Hamburg mostly on water-related topics. The whole harbour area was examined in 1978/1979 for the first time to ascertain the level of contaminants in the sediment. The first international agreement signed by the reunified Germany was the agreement to form the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe (IKSE). In the period from 1990 – 1999 181 local water treatment plants were built from new. extended or reconstructed in Germany and the Czech Republic for a total equivalent population of over 21 million. Fig. however. pharmaceutical. of inadequate action. 7. Mention of the problems caused from upstream was met with anger about the problems caused locally. There is also an increasing amount of indirect contamination. Due to the efforts made by industry. Sums of many billion Euros would be needed to clean these up. This substantial contamination only reduces slowly along the river in the direction of the North Sea. paper and leather industries. Fig.In May 1990 a joint German-German survey trip on the Elbe was undertaken.

The ideal of solving the contamination problem by some sort of decontamination process persisted in parts of the general population through to the 1990s. that cadmium levels are above the standards. without of course the opportunity of tackling the problem of contamination at its sources. With relatively uncontrolled washing. more in-depth investigations were necessary. separation into sand and silt is not only necessary but also sensible for quantity reduction. for instance. the causes of sedimentation and contamination and to look for new disposal sites. DREDGED MATERIAL RESEARCH PROGRAMME The development of the Hamburg dredged material policy must be seen against this background. It was very soon apparent that for further treatment. but also from sources in Hamburg the contaminants are attached relatively firmly to the fine grain fraction cleaning the silt of contaminants is not possible with best available technology recycling the dredged material as a building material is desirable but not yet possible after dewatering. Since the problems of heavy metals became known. . The consequences in Hamburg were great public pressure to find new solutions. It has been found. The first results in 1983 indicated that sedimentation in the harbour basin is natural and cannot really be influenced the burden of contamination comes largely from upstream. Similar problems were known about in other ports e. At the same time in the existing disposal areas there was only very limited disposal capacity which made it necessary for new areas to be added.Fig. voted for a dredged material research programme to examine the possibilities of recycling or disposal the dredged material. Rotterdam and the USA. the soil used for agriculture has been examined for its content of various heavy metals using agricultural crops grown there. the sand layers work like drainage through which the contaminated water can seep into the ground water. The conventional disposal operation led to contamination of the ground water with contaminants washed out with the dredged material. silt is a cohesive earthwork material by separating sand and silt the problem can be reduced disposal in pits above ground or also underwater should be examined It was further decided that new areas should be found for disposal in Hamburg. classification by sand and fine-grain silt was introduced.g. 4: Demonstrations against the land disposal operation in 1982 At the start of the 1980s the level of a total surface area of over 2. 400 hectares of the receiving surfaces were used for agricultural purposes.000 hectares was raised with dredged material and approx. 4. In 1981 the Hamburg Senate. The farmers affected were recommended as far as possible to avoid growing wheat and oats and only to plant animal feed crops. that the disposal practices used previously had environmental risks and that further. the regional government.

by freighting to Africa and greening the desert by making the high nutrient content of the silt usable. 5: Pilot plant METHA I in the Port of Hamburg 1987 Existing flushing fields were used for these installations. the possibility of mechanical handling of dredged material was investigated. thermal treatment or reclamation as ground infill material. see contribution by (Detzner and Knies. so solutions were to be sought for a period of about 25 years. 2004). For a technical description of the solutions set out below. however. it had to be assumed that the level of contamination in the dredged material would be high for a long time. The longitudinal flow separation in large basins was developed for this. first on a laboratory scale at the University. Possible ways of reducing the amount of sediment were soon discovered. Taking into account the Iron Curtain. To reduce the quantity of dredged material to be confined disposed it is necessary to separate the sand. After the underlying questions had been clarified. Open water disposal was at that time not a real option. Fig. then on a pontoon near the dredged material handling unit (METHA I). the decision was taken in 1990 to build a major technical installation. As the intention from the outset was also to reclaim the dredged material or possibly even further separate off contaminants.e. in many respects new ground was broken. The only realistic possibilities were. Fig. 6: Francop disposal site 1986 before the mound was built . but can only be used in parts of the harbour. METHODS OF HANDLING DREDGED MATERIAL IN THE 1980S With the new developments. The first possibility was modifying existing disposal sites. of which there was little experience elsewhere either.5. in particular to avoid seepage into the ground water.g. e. although this had the disadvantage of requiring large surface areas and being dependent on the weather during the drying process. Since then there have been constant suggestions as to how the dredged material could be disposed of even more effectively. i.

First the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein proposed 6 potentially suitable areas which were all close to waterways. no longer has these edge supports as experience had shown that they were not essential. because of the need to transport the dredged material handled in the Hamburg METHA. the recommendations were presented in autumn 1994 (summarised below): Avoiding input of contaminants into the Elbe (source control) is the only way of permanently alleviating the dredged material problems in Hamburg and cleaning up the Elbe must have absolute priority. covering and/or cleaning up tips. However. seepage into the ground water was minimised. the area was reclaimed. 6.Existing flushing fields were used for disposal of the treated dredged material. The aim was to work out a set of recommendations for the regional government of Lower Saxony. These fears were not alleviated by the results of large-scale dust measurements carried out in the area around the Hamburg mound in Francop which is located directly next to fruit plantations. leaving and immobilising deeply consolidated sediments with a contamination. measures to prevent soil erosion. The second mound in Hamburg. This search for disposal grounds caused considerable disquiet in the population who felt threatened by “poisonous silt”. Dredged material in the area above Hamburg should only be disposed elsewhere if the contamination is less than that in Hamburg and otherwise should be treated on land if sustainable relocation in the river is not possible. Setting up an Elbe cleaning fund and accelerating measures for cleaning work including the latest technology for effluent treatment.000 jobs depend directly and indirectly on this economic fact. there must be a guarantee that the silt is safely disposed elsewhere. the salt caverns near the Elbe should be filled. disposal the silt in mounds almost 40 m high also posed new technological challenges: would this be a safe long-term solution and what requirements in terms of soil mechanics should be placed on the infill material? Work on constructing the first mound in Francop was started in 1991 and the mound was equipped with large edge support structures. Interested groups ranging from agriculture to environmental pressure groups organised the procedure which was arbitrated by a self-elected Moderator. The Hamburg plan for mound disposal is not seen as suitable. This has two advantages: no new areas had to be used and by modifying the old areas and covering these with the treated silt. The experts appointed have ascertained that currently there is no single technical solution for recycling the dredged material which would in the short term alleviate the need for disposal. Several events were organised at which all the important aspects were discussed. More physical sorting procedures and thermal treatment should be investigated. After a year of what were sometimes intense discussions. This went so far that agricultural companies declared that they would not purchase agricultural products from an area surrounding a dredged material disposal site because it was feared that crops would be contaminated by blown over silt. reducing diffused inputs. Politicians set up a conciliation procedure to find a solution. A further problem was that these did not take the special characteristics of dredged material into account which mean that if it is properly handled it has high water density and therefore can be both disposed as waste and beneficially used as a sealing material. The southern state of Lower Saxony took a different approach. which received planning permission in 1998. but when the second mound was constructed detailed German and European legal requirements had to be taken into account. although some of these were over 100 km from Hamburg. .e. groins and dike foreshores only if it is not possible to leave these in the Elbe. i. The Hamburg authorities were allowed to attend these but had no voting rights although they paid for the “Elbe Silt Forum”. Using suitable building methods ensures that drifting is kept to a minimum. As long as the contamination remains and sustainable relocation in the waterway system is not adequate. Around 140. Both neighbouring German states have recognised the significance of this and have given political agreement since the mid 1980s to making areas available for disposal the dredged material. THE SEARCH FOR FURTHER DISPOSAL SITES As one of the largest ports in the world the Port of Hamburg has major economic importance well beyond the city boundaries for the whole region. removing or cleaning highly contaminated sediments in an environmentally friendly way from dammed areas. As a temporary measure. the Chancellor of a University. The Elbe Silt Forum showed that comprehensively involving the population in the search for solutions to political problems very quickly produces creative ideas not previously thought possible. At the start of the development about 20 years ago there were practically no general technical requirements on building disposal sites.

8 tonnes per year. agitation dredging with and without the use of compressed air has been used . 7: Mercury contamination of suspended particles at the measurement point on the former GermanGerman border (from ARGE Elbe) Since reunification it has been Hamburg’s aim to reduce the contamination in the Elbe at source.000 Euros. The city has therefore supported targeted clean-up measures. Great success could and has been achieved with small resources. In view of the enormous problems in East Germany and the Czech Republic resulting from the new social and economic order. This decision was tied in with the Plan of Action of the International Commission for the Protection of the Elbe IKSE. Total mercury contamination in the Elbe was 3. The knock-on effect was also a decrease in the contamination in the dredged material from the Port of Hamburg.1 tonnes in 1995.7 tonnes to approx 0. the aim of protecting the sea must be taken into consideration even in the upstream part of the river. Hamburg has supported the construction of two sedimentation basins at the Czech firm Spol Chemie in Usti with financial aid of 150. a tributary of the Elbe. the first priority is to clean up the causes of this. to be left in the waterways and if it is contaminated. The proposal which then came to the forefront in further discussions for filling in excavated salt caverns was. Since the mid 1980s. As a transition measure. the problem of disposal of dredged material has not been solved. from 1.Some recommendations. criteria were defined for assessing dredged material for relocation. shown in subsequent years not to be feasible. for instance. FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN HAMBURG In the mid 1990s the condition of the Elbe improved substantially. as occurs worldwide in most ports and waterways. where possible. The recommendations show that the previously very heated discussions have become more fact-based and Hamburg’s dredged material policy has to a certain extent been recognised. Fig. acknowledge Hamburg’s position. 7. As a result of this. 7 shows this development using the example of mercury which in the mid 1980s was still 100 times above natural levels in the Elbe and at that time was seen as one of the major problems. the reason being the measures taken after reunification and the closure of whole industrial sectors. political pressure to reduce the disposal of contaminants in the river would have had little success. considerations were given in Hamburg to open water disposal of dredged material with lower levels of contamination. Against the background of an improved overall situation. such as the primary requirement of cleaning up the Elbe. however. Fig. In the mid 1990s the Environmental Ministers for the German states on the Elbe voted on “Handling polluted sediments on the Elbe”. It was recognised that reclaiming large quantities is not really possible or affordable. This action succeeded in reducing mercury levels discharged into the river Bilina. however. dredged material is. Since 1997. In the final analysis.

The treated silt is either beneficially used or disposed in the Hamburg silt mounds. SITUATION AND OUTLOOK Today the Hamburg dredging policy is multi-faceted. which only 10 years previously had been known for its opposition to the disposal of dredged material. Of the land quantity. The city has to a large extent done its individual cases as interim solution. 8. It particularly begs the question as to why a port should have to pay for the misdemeanours of its upstream neighbours. From 1994 onwards major tests were carried out on disposal in the Elbe downstream of the Hamburg port and accompanied by comprehensive investigations. this is not sustainable for the city. Maintenance of the port results in annual quantities of approx. However. however. The investigations continued over several years. Fig. oxygen consumption and the effects on local biology. Of course. In the long term. In this area low oxygen contents occur in the river during warm weather. a much greater effect would possibly be achieved upstream at less cost. in addition de-watering fields are operated as previously. 8: Hopper dredger in use on the Elbe The experience gathered was compiled jointly with the environmental authorities and resulted in a policy document. In total over 500 million Euros have been spent in the past 20 years. This clarifies both questions of assessment of the dredged material and mitigation measures for open water disposal. In view of the negative ecological effect. soon replaced by the water injection dredging. Almost a third of the heavy metal contamination which reaches Hamburg from upstream is removed with the dredged material for disposal on land. this was. and there are fish growth areas close by. dredged material can still quickly become a hot topic again. In the municipal waste water treatment plants further cleaning stages have been added and in industry also comprehensive efforts have been made. all this comes at a price: just disposal of the dredged material alone requires expenditure from Hamburg’s public purse of the order of 30 million Euros every year without including personnel costs in this. as the Europe-wide debate about TBT in anti-fouling paints a few years ago demonstrated. A particularly important point was therefore taking measurements on the spread of the dumped material in the water column and drifting with the tidal flow (effect of the tides). Public debate has over the past 20 years become comparatively fact-based and less heated. the remaining quantity is relocated in the river. the major part is treated in the METHA plant. In the Port of Hamburg the sediments with the highest TBT contamination levels are located . A good 1 million m3 are treated on land. as the mercury example quoted shows. which for example would not take place in warm seasons. These agreements were reached under a regional government in which the Green party was represented. and included investigations into various technologies and points for bringing in the dredged materials relative to a cross-section of the river. although. 3 to 4 million m3 of dredged material.

Either legal requirements prevent this (for instance. so far sediments have not appeared in the directive. The increasing density of regulation therefore demands an agreed and active policy initiative by “owners of sediment”. dikes. These contaminated sediments are treated on land and the environment agency is working with the shipyards to take steps to reduce emissions. These have today taken a more realistic approach. However. to do this it is of great importance that open communication with all those who are interested and with the public is of great importance. The beneficial use of mineral waste is regulated nationally. is a sensible option. for brick fabrication. particularly when it is disposed on land. not only in Hamburg.particularly around the shipyards. Although the aim is to beneficially use waste – and dredged material is waste in a legal sense when it is brought onto land – it has to be recognised that this beneficial use of large quantities is not possible in practical terms. The situation today is fundamentally different to that of 20 years ago. in future the legal boundary conditions for proper handling must be put on a secure basis. This has not so far been reflected in regulations. Treatment and beneficial use of dredged sediments from the Port of Hamburg. CONCLUSION Over the past 25 years. there was at that time strong public protest. There remains confined disposal. World Dredging Congress XVII . Only if a shortage in demand for raw materials occurs. as is soil protection. The basis for these regulations is often European. REFERENCES Detzner. Knies (2004).g. Whereas in 1984 only a few boundary conditions provided a legal framework for handling dredged material. this is not a realistic option for disposing of large quantities. The Water Framework Directive may offer an opportunity here by requiring the considerations of the whole river basin to be taken into account with the aim of tackling properly understood sediment management. will thermal treatment become a viable option. The extensive efforts made by Hamburg have in the end had little success.g.-D. but also organic materials or salt content). On the long run this requires “clean” sediments. or can be created by fiscal measures. For contaminated sediments. management of dredged material has changed significantly. For ports. and the German Landfill Regulations implement the European Landfill Guidelines. the relevant regulations tend to prevent this. and is also being looked at for the Hamburg dredged material. however. more and more legal requirements now govern the handling of dredged material. As Hamburg’s experiences show. Dredged material with its particular characteristics has not been included in European or national regulations or is been covered with unreasonable requirements. the handling of dredged material is of great importance. H. 9. for which ever higher requirements are formulated which ultimately further increase costs. or the costs are too high. and R. As long as the owners of the dredged material have to pay the costs of treatment themselves. The large quantities produced in maintenance of waterways can only be relocated. Although treated dredged material has a low water permeability because of the fine grain content and would therefore be suitable as sealing material for disposal sites or e. Although initially public protest was high. Pre-treatment (which is also expensive) is still necessary. the network on this subject promoted by the European Commission. the possibility of sub-aquatic disposal. Sediments are an elemental element of aquatic systems and should remain there. In Europe these questions are being discussed in SedNet. for instance the German Recycling and Waste Law is the incorporation of the European Waste Law. It is a task for the near future to ensure that handling dredged material in waterways is put on a secure basis. e. and the plan of action to be drawn up in accordance with the Water Framework Directive must contain measures to clean up the sources of the contamination. and little experience was available. of which there is experience in particular in the Netherlands and the USA. not only contaminants are a limiting factor. even if the “Not in my Backyard” syndrome appears again everywhere when the search is on for new disposal grounds. The European Water Framework Directive may offer a chance of attaining this goal.

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