A river has become a mass grave on the German-Polish border. Volunteers and officials have been busy for days to clear tons of dead fish floating on the surface of the Oder River.
The cause of the massive death toll, which affected a river more than 300 miles long, remains a mystery, but Sasha Maier, a water policy officer for the BUND environmental organization, told CBS News on Wednesday that “everything is at point one.” for a man-made disaster.”
Officials are having a hard time finding answers.
More than 500 firefighters are taking part in efforts to clean up the mess on the Polish bank of the river. Mayer said at least 110 tonnes of dead fish had been fished out of the river as of Wednesday. Around 100 bodies were sampled for examination, while the rest were to be burnt at a dedicated site in Germany.
Poland’s government says no toxic substances have been found in Oder water samples, and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa said there was no evidence of pesticides in the dead fish samples.
The government has proposed three hypotheses.
The first is that some still unknown toxic substance got into the river water through intentional or accidental discharge from an industrial plant with oder, or that someone illegally dumped a toxin into the river.
The second thesis is that the cause was natural. Poland and Germany, like most of Europe, have been swept through record high temperatures, and low water levels have increased the concentrations of pollutants this summer. Moskwa said the Polish Environment Agency is investigating all conditions that could explain the high salinity and water temperature in the Oder.
The third possibility being investigated is the discharge of a large amount of chlorinated industrial water into the river. Moskva said that if chlorine is released into the water, it can settle and contaminate river bed sediments, which could endanger wildlife.
Mass fish kills were first noted in Poland on July 28 by locals around the city of Wrocaw.
“One thing is clear, the waters of the Oder river are polluted, the only one that is not yet clear,” Meier of the German group Bund told CBS News. “Elevated salt and oxygen levels have been found in the water.”
The cause of high salinity and water temperature has not been confirmed, or definitively linked to the mass death of fish.
The German Environment Ministry has denied mercury contamination as the cause.
Polish authorities suspect that the river was contaminated with chemical waste. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has offered a reward of 1 million zloty (about $218,000) to anyone who identifies the cause.
It’s not the only fish affected by mystery contaminants. Meier told CBS News that several other animals in and around the river, including mussels and small vertebrates, also suffered damage. There is also a risk that a yet unknown toxin could be absorbed into the food chain and affect even more species – even animals destined for human consumption.
“We’ve seen other animal species, such as eagles or even raccoons, eat carcasses,” Maier said, and farmers have long used the waters of the Oder along the river valley to feed their sheep. and for cattle.
Officials have strongly advised against using oder water for livestock for now, forcing farmers to look for alternatives.
The International Commission for the Protection of the Oder River (ICPO), an organization that sees delegations from Czechia [also known as the Czech Republic], Poland and Germany cooperate to protect the waterways, raising alarm in such cases. There are dedicated working groups for in this form. According to their plans, the so-called International Main Warning Centers are located along the river in all three countries and are expected to pass on reports of pollution or damage in a relay of information intended to provide early warning to downstream locations.
But apparently it didn’t happen as intended. In Brandenburg, Germany, fishing has been under surveillance since August 10, and people there were caught unprepared.
“There was no advance warning from Poland, although there were reports of fish kills for two weeks at the time,” a spokesman for the German environment ministry said on Monday.
It is also unclear why the reporting chain did not work as intended. Germany’s federal environment ministry said the responsible working group would hold a special meeting on August 18 to look into the matter.
Whatever the contamination, it affected an ecosystem that was already under great stress this summer, Maier told CBS News, thanks to weeks of extreme heat and hardly any rainfall. Those conditions only exacerbate the problem, at least, because a lower water content means a higher concentration of any toxic substances present.