Germany and Poland search for the cause of mass fish deaths in the Oder River

  • Tons of dead fish collected in a river on the Polish-German border
  • The authorities are working to prove the cause
  • Polish authorities criticized for slow response
  • Polish PM says Oder ‘could take years’ to return to normal

BERLIN/WARSAW (Reuters) – German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said on Friday that Polish and German authorities were working “categorically” to determine the cause of large numbers of fish deaths in the Oder River, warning of environmental risks. catastrophe.

Tons of dead fish have been found since late July in the Oder River that runs through Germany and Poland. Both sides said they believed a toxin was to blame but had not yet identified it.

“Environmental catastrophe is imminent,” Lemki told the NDA newspaper group. “All parties are working very hard to find the causes of this mass extinction and to minimize the additional potential damage.”

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said it would take years for the waterway to return to normal.

“The scale of this pollution is so big. So big that it could take years for Oder to get back to a somewhat normal state,” Morawiecki said in a regular podcast on Friday.

“It is possible that huge amounts of chemical waste were dumped into the river,” he said, adding that officials would be held accountable.

Late Friday, Morawiecki fired the head of Poland’s National Water Management Authority, Przemyslaw Dhaka, and the head of the Environmental Inspectorate General Michal Mysterzak, saying their institutions should have responded earlier.

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A spokesman for Germany’s environment minister said at a news conference on Friday that they are following the situation closely, and it was not yet clear what had reached the waters.

“We have an incomplete picture,” the spokesman said. “We need to clarify what substances are in the water.”

“huge” pollution

Green activists and opposition politicians have criticized the Polish government for not responding quickly enough to the danger and for failing to alert Poles to avoid bathing and angling in the polluted river since late July.

Germany also grumbled about Poland’s response: Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel said earlier that “the chains of communication between the Polish and German sides did not work out in this case.”

Earlier on Friday, Dhaka said the situation was serious and that by Thursday evening, Poland had collected more than 11 tons of dead fish.

“The problem is huge, the pollution wave extends from Wroclaw to Szczecin. Those are hundreds of kilometers from the river, and the pollution is massive,” Polish Radio 24 quoted him as saying.

An analysis of the river’s water carried out this week showed evidence of “synthetic chemicals, which are also very likely to have toxic effects on vertebrates,” the German state of Brandenburg’s environment ministry said on Thursday, adding that it was still not clear how the substance entered to the water.

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According to local German radio station RBB, the government laboratory has found high levels of mercury in water samples.

Poland detected mercury above normal levels in samples of Oder waters from the Silesian province, and no traces of the toxic metal were found in samples taken in West Pomeranian, Lubusz and Lower Silesia provinces, Deputy Environment Minister Jacek Ozdoba said in a late press briefing. Friday. Poland plans to erect a barricade on the Oder River near the city of Köstrzyn to collect dead fish swarming in the river, with 150 soldiers from the Regional Defense Force commissioned to help clean up.

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(Reporting by Anna Ludarczak Simczuk, Marek Strzelecki and Paul Florkiewicz); Additional reporting by Anna Cooper, Thomas Escritt and Carol Badhull; writing by Rachel Moore; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Mike Harrison, Toby Chopra, Raisa Kasulowsky and Louise Heavens

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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