Polish and German authorities are working “intensely” to find out the cause of a mass fish kill in the Oder River, German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said on Friday, warning of an ecological disaster.

Since the end of July, tons of dead fish have been found in the Oder River, which flows through Germany and Poland. Both sides have said they believe a toxic substance is to blame, but have yet to identify it.

“An environmental disaster is coming,” Lemke told the RND newspaper. “All parties are working to find the causes of this mass extinction and minimize potential further damage.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the waterway would take years to normalize.

“The scale of this pollution is very large. So big that it could take Oder years to get back to pretty much normal,” Morawiecki said on a regular podcast Friday.

“It is quite likely that a huge amount of chemical waste was dumped into the river,” he said, adding that those responsible would be brought to justice.

A spokesman for the German environment ministry said at a press conference on Friday that they are closely monitoring the situation and that it is not yet clear what got into the water.

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


Green activists and opposition politicians have criticized the Polish government for not reacting quickly enough to the danger and not warning Poles not to swim or fish in the river, which has been polluted since late July.

Germany also bemoaned Poland’s response, with Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel previously saying that “the communication chains between the Polish and German sides are not working in this case.”

The head of the Polish water agency said that the situation is serious and that by Thursday evening, Poland had collected more than 11 tons of dead fish.

“(This) is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office, the police and local environmental protection inspectorates,” Przemysław Daza, head of Polish Waters, was quoted as saying by “Polish Radio 24”.

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

An analysis of river water taken this week showed evidence of “synthetic chemicals, very likely also toxic to vertebrates,” Brandenburg state’s environment ministry said Thursday, adding that it remained unclear how the substance got into the water.

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

Water samples on the Oder River from the Silesia province in Poland showed an above-normal mercury content, while no traces of the toxic metal were found in samples taken from the provinces of West Pomerania, Lubusz and Lower Silesia, Deputy Environment Minister Jacek Ozdoba said late at a briefing in Friday.

Poland is planning adjust a a barrier on the Oder near the city of Kościn to collect dead fish flowing down the river, 150 soldiers of the Territorial Defense Forces were sent to assist in the cleanup.

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