Preventing environmental damage

Environmental damage

Environmental damage means a sudden incident where an environmentally harmful substance is released or threatens to be released to the environment in such a way that it causes danger or harm to the environment or human health. 

Often this refers to an oil or chemical spill and its consequences in connection with accidents or other disruptions. Environmental damage may also occur over a longer period of time, such as when harmful substance leaks slowly into the environment. Environmental damage may affect e.g. the soil, air, natural environment surface waters and groundwater, and it may pose a risk to human health.

The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for preventing environmental damage from the perspective of environmental protection.

Oil and chemical spills

Oil and chemical spills are typical types of environmental damage. These comprise vessel oil and chemical spills in maritime and coastal areas and inland waters and oil and chemical spills on land.

The Ministry of the Environment guides, monitors and develops oil spill recovery measures and the prevention of chemical spills and recovery measures for these that fall within its remit. 

Combating oil and chemical spills

In the event of environmental damage, the Finnish Border Guard is responsible for response during rescue operations under the Rescue Act at high seas and in coastal regions. In inland waters and on land the responsibility for the response rests with the rescue services of the relevant wellbeing services county.

After the rescue operations, the municipalities are responsible for any clean-up and recovery operations that may be needed in their respective territories, assisted by different municipal authorities and institutions. 

The Finnish Environment Institute and Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment provide experts assistance for response to damage led by the Finnish Border Guard and rescue services of the wellbeing services counties and for oil-spill recovery measures led by the municipality.

Oil and chemical spill recovery measures

The Ministry of the Environment is preparing legislation concerning oil and chemical spill recovery measures and organisation of waste management during disruptions. The project is based on the obligation to move the provisions concerning oil spill recovery measures from the Rescue Act to an act in the administrative branch of the Ministry of the Environment. The aim is to further specify and clarify the legislation on oil spill recovery and extend the obligations of the authorities to organise recovery to also apply to chemical damages other than oil spills. 

The aim of the regulation on waste management during disruptions is to use legislative means to prepare for organising waste management related to exceptionally large oil or other chemical spills. In highly exceptional circumstances, it must be possible to organise the collection, transport, intermediate storage and treatment of waste from spills in a flexible, systematic and controlled manner, taking environmental and health protection into account. The Government is scheduled to submit the proposal to Parliament in autumn 2024.

Competence of authorities in seriously dangerous situations – section 182 a of Environmental Protection Act 

Provisions on particular administrative enforcement in exceptional circumstances concerning seriously dangerous situations are laid down in section 182 a of the Environmental Protection Act. The state supervisory authority may on its own initiative take measures that are necessary to prevent or restrict environmental pollution which do not fall under rescue operations referred to in the Rescue Act.

A condition for this is that the activities causing environmental pollution pose or threaten to pose a serious hazard or harm to human health or the environment. The authority takes such action if the administrative enforcement procedure under section 175 of the Environmental Protection Act cannot be applied due to lack of factual capacity of the party in charge of the activities or if the party in charge of the activities cannot be established without delay. 

Where possible, the costs incurred from such measures are charged to the party responsible for the activities. The aim is to ensure that, in the event of a serious risk of environmental pollution, matters such as ambiguities with respect to responsibilities or insolvency do not prevent or slow down the necessary measures to prevent and restrict pollution.

Environmental Damage Fund

The Environmental Damage Fund is a new off-budget fund to be launched on 1 January 2025. The fund is part of the secondary environmental liability systems. The Finnish Oil Pollution Compensation Fund and mandatory environmental liability insurance will be abolished when the Environmental Damage Fund is started. 

The purpose of the Environmental Damage Fund is to ensure that the environmental obligations of various operators are fulfilled as far as possible without financial intervention by the State. The funds are collected as tax-like environmental liability contributions from operators whose activities may posed a risk of environmental pollution. 

Compensations from the Environmental Damage Fund will be paid for costs incurred from combating environmental pollution and restoring polluted environments and for damage caused when the liable party is insolvent, unknown or unavailable. In addition, within the limits of an appropriation transferred from the State budget, grants may be awarded to cover part of the total costs incurred from acquiring equipment for the prevention of environmental damage in rescue operations. 

The secondary liability systems also include a separate support system with a maximum amount of funding allocated in the State budget that is intended, in particular, to support the analysis of the level of pollution and clean-up operations in old polluted sites. In such sites, the municipalities also provide funding for soil and groundwater restoration.

Significant environmental damage – Environmental Liability Directive

The Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) lays down provisions on preventing and remedying significant environmental damage. In the Directive environmental damage means damage to protected species, natural habitats and water and land that has significant adverse effects. The threshold for significance with respect to each type of damage has been set very high. According to the Directive, e.g. land contamination is significant if it creates a risk to human health.

The Environmental Liability Directive has been implemented in Finland by several statutes. The competent authority is determined in accordance with the act applicable in each specific case. This means that the competent authority may be the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Regional State Administrative Agency or Board for Gene Technology.

So far the provisions on preventing and remedying significant environmental damages under the Environmental Liability Directive have been applied in very few cases in Finland:

In spring 2021, the Commission issued Notice Guidelines concerning the concept of environmental damage in the Environmental Liability Directive. 

More information

Laura Siili-Hakkarainen, Senior Specialist, Legal Affairs 
Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Environmental Protection Department, Emissions and Environmental Risks Telephone:0295250411   Email Address:

Mari-Linda Harju-Oksanen, Senior Specialist, Legal Affairs 
Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Environmental Protection Department, Emissions and Environmental Risks Telephone:0295250554   Email Address: