Germany and Poland are searching for the cause of the massive fish kills in the Oder

  • Tons of dead fish picked up from river on German-Polish border
  • The authorities are trying to establish the cause
  • Polish authorities criticized for their slowness to react
  • Polish PM says Oder ‘may take years’ to return to normal

BERLIN/WARSAW, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Polish and German authorities are working “hard” to establish the cause of the massive fish kills in the Oder, German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said on Friday. , warning of a disaster.

Tons of dead fish have been found since the end of July in the Oder River, which crosses Germany and Poland. Both parties said they believed a toxic substance was to blame, but had not yet identified it.

“An environmental catastrophe is in sight,” Lemke told the RND news group. “All parties are working hard to find the reasons for this mass disappearance and minimize potential additional damage.”

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the waterway will take years to return to normal.

“The scale of this pollution is very large. So large that the Oder can take years to return to a fairly normal state,” Morawiecki said in a regular podcast on Friday.

β€œIt is likely that huge amounts of chemical waste have been dumped into the river,” he said, adding that officials would be held accountable.

A spokesman for Germany’s environment minister told a press conference on Friday that they were monitoring the situation closely and it was not yet known what ended up in the water.

“We have an incomplete picture,” the spokesperson said. “We need clarity on what materials are in the water.”

“GIGANTIC” POLLUTION

Environmental activists and opposition politicians have blamed the Polish government for not reacting quickly enough to the danger and not alerting Poles to avoid bathing and fishing in the contaminated river since late July. .

Germany also complained about Poland’s response: Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel had previously said that “the channels of communication between the Polish and German sides did not work in this case. “.

The head of Poland’s national water management authority said the situation was serious and as of Thursday evening Poland had collected more than 11 tonnes of dead fish.

“(He) is under investigation by the prosecutor’s office, the police and local environmental protection inspectorates,” Przemyslaw Daca, the head of Polish waters, was quoted by Polish Radio 24 as saying. .

“The problem is huge, the wave of pollution goes from Wroclaw to Szczecin. It’s hundreds of kilometers of river, the pollution is gigantic.”

An analysis of the river water taken this week showed evidence of “synthetic chemical substances, most likely also with toxic effects for vertebrates”, the German environment ministry for the state of Brandenburg said on Thursday, adding that it remained unclear how the substance entered the water.

According to local German broadcaster rbb, the state lab found high levels of mercury in water samples.

However, Wladyslaw Dajczak, the head of the Polish province of Lubusz, quoted by the PAP news agency, said that tests carried out on August 10 and 11 showed that the mercury was only found in the state. of “traces”, well below authorized levels.

He said a barrier would be set up on the Oder near the town of Kostrzyn to collect dead fish flowing into the river, with 150 Territorial Defense Force soldiers delegated to help with the cleanup.

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Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Marek Strzelecki and Pawel Florkiewicz; Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt and Karol Badohal, writing by Rachel More; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Mike Harrison, Toby Chopra and Raissa Kasolowsky

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