Photos: Mystery surrounds mass fish deaths in the Oder River

Laboratory tests found high levels of salinity but not mercury poisoning in the Oder River after a mass fish die-off, Poland’s environment minister said, as the mystery of how many tonnes of fish were killed in central Europe remains.

Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskva said on Saturday that analysis of river samples taken in Poland and Germany showed increased salinity levels. Comprehensive toxicology studies are still underway in Poland, she said.

Moskwa said Poland’s state veterinary authority tested seven species of dead fish and ruled out mercury as the cause of death but was still awaiting results from other substances. She said test results from Germany also did not show a high presence of mercury.

The Oder River flows from the Czech Republic to the borders of Poland and Germany before flowing into the Baltic Sea. A section of the German media reported that the river had been poisoned with mercury.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “massive amounts of chemical waste” had been deliberately dumped into the country’s second-longest river, causing environmental damage so severe that the waterway would take years to recover.

On Saturday, Morawiecki pledged to do everything possible to limit environmental destruction. Poland’s interior minister said a reward of 1 million zlotys ($220,000) would be offered to those responsible for polluting the river.

Authorities in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania warned people not to fish or use water in Lake Szczecin, as contaminated river water was expected to reach the estuary on Saturday evening.

“The scale of the fish die-off is shocking. This is a major blow to the Oder as a waterway of great ecological value, from which it will probably not recover for a long time,” said Alex Vogel, environment minister of the German state of Brandenburg, along which the river flows.

Poland’s National Water Management Authority said on Thursday that 10 tons of dead fish had been removed from the river. Hundreds of volunteers were employed on the German side to help collect the dead fish.

German labs said they found “atypical” levels of “salts” that could be linked to the deaths but did not fully explain them on their own.

Morawiecki admitted that some Polish officials were “lazy” to react after large numbers of dead fish were seen floating and washing ashore, and two of them were dismissed.

“For me, however, the most important thing is to deal with this environmental disaster as soon as possible, because nature is our common heritage,” Moravecki said.

His comments were echoed by Schwedt Mayor Annekathrin Hoppe, whose German city is next to the Lower Oder Valley National Park.

She called the river’s contamination an “ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions” for the region.

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