Tons of dead fish were discovered this week in the Oder River, which flows through both countries

Authorities in Poland and Germany are trying to determine the cause of a major environmental disaster in Poland’s second largest river, which also flows through the Czech Republic and eastern Germany. 

Tons of dead fish have been seen floating or washed ashore on the banks of Oder River over the past two weeks. Photos and videos published on social media show the surface of the river covered by fish carcasses, while dead beavers can also be seen floating on the water. 

The German broadcaster rbb24 reported on Saturday that the disaster had reached the Szczecin Lagoon at the mouth of the Oder that flows into the Baltic Sea. Hundreds of volunteers as well as some 300 German emergency service specialists have been collecting dead animals in the Oder in an area spanning some 80 kilometers. 

On Friday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that “huge amounts of chemical waste were probably dumped in the Oder River with full awareness of the risks and consequences.” He also vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. “We will not let this matter go. We will not rest until the guilty are severely punished,” he said in a video published on Facebook. 

On Saturday, Poland offered a reward of a million zloty ($220,200) for any information about those responsible for what was described by some environmentalists as the nation’s biggest disaster in years.

The cause of the pollution remains unknown. On Friday, rbb24 reported, citing the Brandenburg State Laboratory, that extremely high levels of mercury had been detected in water samples taken from the river. The amount of the highly toxic substance in the river was reportedly so high the testing equipment could not properly display the test results and the test had to be repeated. 

However, on Saturday Polish Environment Minister Anna Moskwa ruled out an increased mercury level as the cause of the massive fish deaths in the Oder. “The State Veterinary Institute tested seven species. It ruled out mercury as a cause of fish deaths,” she wrote on Twitter. The Polish authorities stated that a high salt concentration in the water might be the culprit.  

The environment minister of the state of Brandenburg in eastern Germany, Axel Vogel, also said that large amounts of dissolved salt might have killed the fish. This is “absolutely atypical,” he told rbb24. 

Meanwhile, Berlin blamed Warsaw for not sharing the information about the disaster with Germany in time. The German authorities were informed too late, the federal environment minister, Steffi Lemke, said. Vogel also told rbb24 that he had not received any official information from Poland about chemical waste possibly having been dumped into the river.

Morawiecki told reporters on Saturday that he himself learned about the disaster “too late” and dismissed two top civil servants in charge of environmental protection and water management.

According to rbb24, there are certain “indications” that some toxic substances were dumped into the Oder near the city of Wroclaw in southern Poland in late July. However, it is unclear what exactly found its way into the river or who the perpetrators may be. 

The incident comes as Europe faces a massive draught and heat waves, which have caused water levels in many major rivers on the continent to fall. Some media have reported that this fact may have also contributed to the disaster.

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