Schools of dead fish near the eastern German town of Schwedt may have been washed up by currents from Poland, where residents and fishermen first reported the cases on July 28.
German authorities, surprised by the mass arrival of these animals, reprimanded Polish authorities for not warning, and German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke demanded a thorough investigation to determine the causes of this “ecological disaster”.
In Poland, the right-wing populist government was criticized for not acting soon enough. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was aware of the incident “on August 9 or 10”. “Obviously I found out too late,” he admits.
Earlier in the day, Morawiecki tried to justify himself by saying, “Initially, everyone thought it was a local issue.”
“The death toll was so great that it would take years for the Oder to return to its normal state,” he admitted, “with full awareness of the danger and consequences, and large amounts of chemical waste were dumped.” . Guess.
Along the riverbank, Michael Daudenhan, deputy director of the Lower Oder Valley National Park, gazes in dismay at the waterway that marks the German-Polish border.
“We are on the German side. We have dead fish everywhere,” he tells AFP. “I am deeply shocked. I have the impression that decades of work have been ruined (…) Water is our life”, he laments.
Apart from fish, many other aquatic life like clams also died. Fish are “only the tip of the iceberg,” he says.
The Oder has been considered a relatively clean river for many years and is home to over forty species of fish. Many now float lifeless in its waters.
Officials believe the animals may have been poisoned. Axel Vogel, the environment minister of the German state of Brandenburg, explains that the deaths are “strange”, assuring that “tons” of fish have already died.
When water levels are too low, fish kills are often caused by abnormal oxygen levels, he explains. “But we found an increase in oxygen levels over several days, indicating that an external substance had entered and caused all this,” he says.
Analysis is underway in Germany to establish the nature of this material. Officials have already reported evidence of very high levels of mercury, something that remains to be confirmed in the investigation.
In Poland, police offered a $215,000 reward to find the culprit of the contamination.
The opposition, local authorities and environmental groups have demanded explanations from the government, and some have called for the resignation of the climate ministry, after a deputy minister encouraged people to bathe in the Oder on Thursday.
“It looks like it [o desastre nuclear de] “After the disaster, Chernobyl when the Soviet power sent people to participate in the march on May 1,” environmentalist Daniel Petrykevich told TVN24 television.
On the German side of the river, Daudenhan worries about the future. “If it’s mercury, it’s going to be there for a long time,” he says, adding that the metal doesn’t decompose and stays in sediments for years.