Polish and German authorities are working “flat-out” to determine the source of a large fish die-off in the Oder River, German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said on Friday, threatening an environmental disaster.

Tons of dead fish have been discovered in the Oder River, which flows through Germany and Poland, since late July. Both parties have stated that they believe a harmful substance is to blame but have not identified it.

“An environmental catastrophe is in the offing,” Lemke told the RND media group. “All sides are working flat out to find the reasons for this mass die-out and minimise potential further damage.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that restoring the waterway will take years.

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

“It is likely that enormous amounts of chemical waste have been dumped into the river,” he added, adding that those responsible would face consequences.

A spokesperson for Germany’s environment ministry said at a news conference on Friday that the situation was being constantly monitored and that it was unclear what had gotten into the water.

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

Green activists and opposition lawmakers have chastised the Polish government for failing to respond swiftly enough to the threat and for neglecting to warn Poles to avoid bathing and fishing in the contaminated river since late July.

Germany has also expressed dissatisfaction with Poland’s response, with Brandenburg Environment Minister Axel Vogel previously stating that “chains of communication between the Polish and German sides did not work in this case”.

According to the chairman of Poland’s national water management organization, the situation is critical, and Poland had collected almost 11 tonnes of dead fish by Thursday evening.

“(It) is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office, the police and local environmental protection inspectorates,” Przemyslaw Daca, the chairman of Polish Waters, was reported as saying by Polish Radio 24.

“The problem is enormous, the wave of pollution runs from Wroclaw to Szczecin. Those are hundreds of kilometres of river, the pollution is gigantic.”

The German state of Brandenburg’s environment ministry stated on Thursday that an investigation of river water conducted this week revealed indications of “synthetic chemical substances, very probably also with toxic effects for vertebrates,” adding that it was unknown how the substance reached the water.

The state laboratory discovered excessive levels of mercury in the water tests, according to local German station rbb.

However, according to the PAP news agency, Wladyslaw Dajczak, the head of Poland’s Lubusz province, tests conducted on August 10 and 11 revealed that mercury was found only in “trace amounts” far within authorized levels.

He stated that a barrier will be erected on the Oder near the city of Kostrzyn to gather dead fish flowing down the river, and that 150 Territorial Defence Forces soldiers would be assigned to assist with the cleanup.

Source: Reuters

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