Poland investigates ”ecological catastrophe” of fish die-off

Poland has deployed soldiers to help clean up the Oder River, which runs through the border with Germany, after 10 tonnes of dead fish emerged from the waterway in what one official described as an “ecological catastrophe”.

A fishermen’s association in Zielona Gora, a town in western Poland, said on Friday it was suspending fishing in the river because of yet-to-be-confirmed reports in German media that the river may be contaminated with mercury.

Investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the massive fish kill. Large numbers of dead fish were first spotted near the town of Olawa in south-western Poland at the end of July, along with animals such as beavers.

“We are probably dealing with a crime where a substance was introduced into the water that causes the death of fish and other organisms.

It is currently being verified,” said Jacek Ozdoba, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment.

Poland’s political opposition and local residents have accused the government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of being too slow to tackle the problem.

Przemyslaw Daca, the head of Polish Waters, the national water management authority, said on Thursday that 10 tons of dead fish had already been removed from the river.

“This shows that we are facing a gigantic and outrageous ecological catastrophe,” he said at a press conference held near the river, where officials faced angry local residents.

Environmental protection authorities in the southwestern city of Wroclaw had previously notified local prosecutors that the country’s second-longest river appeared to have been poisoned.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced Thursday that both regular and reservist soldiers were being deployed to help clean up pollutants from the river, which is known as the Oder in German and the Odra in Polish and Czech.

It flows north for hundreds of miles from the Czech Oder Mountains and empties into the Baltic Sea.

German officials have complained that Poland failed to comply with an international treaty by not immediately notifying them of possible river pollution.

A boat captain first alerted German authorities to the dead fish in the river on August 9.

“We know that the reporting chain that is planned for these cases did not work,” said Christopher Stolzenberg, a spokesman for Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry.

“We finally got the message yesterday that should have come from the Polish side,” he told reporters in Berlin.

“But in fact, the pollution on the German side was already known then.” Stolzenberg said German authorities were contacting their Polish counterparts to get more information about the situation, including the substances found in the water, and to provide any assistance requested.

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