Warsaw, Poland — The Polish prime minister said on Friday that “enormous amounts of chemical waste” were likely deliberately dumped into the Oder River, which runs along the border with Germany, causing environmental damage so severe that the river will take years to recover.
Tons of dead fish have been seen floating or washing up on the banks of the Oder over the past two weeks, but the issue only erupted into a major scandal at the end of this week.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose government is under pressure for dealing with what appears to be a major environmental disaster, vowed that Polish authorities would hold the perpetrators to account.
“There are probably huge amounts of chemical waste dumped into the Oder River with full awareness of the risks and consequences,” he said in a video posted to Facebook. “We are not letting this case go. We will not rest until the guilty are severely punished.”
German media have reported that the poison is mercury, although this has not been officially confirmed.
Research is underway into the cause of the massive fish kill. Huge numbers of dead fish, along with dead animals such as beavers, were first sighted near the southwestern Polish town of Olawa in late July.
Przemyslaw Daca, head of Poland’s national water management authority, said on Thursday that 10 tons of dead fish have been removed from the river.
“This shows that we are dealing with a gigantic and excessive ecological catastrophe,” he said at a news conference near the river, where officials confronted angry residents.
Meanwhile, German officials complained that Poland violated an international treaty by not immediately informing them of the possible contamination of the river. A boat captain first warned German authorities about the dead fish on August 9.
“We know that the reporting chain envisaged for such cases has not worked,” Christopher Stolzenberg, a spokesman for the German Environment Ministry, told reporters in Berlin.
Stolzenberg said the German authorities were in contact with their Polish colleagues to get more information about the situation and to provide any assistance requested.
Poland has deployed soldiers to help clear the Oder and an association of fishermen in Zielona Gora, a city in western Poland, said Friday it was suspending fishing in the river due to the contamination.
According to Morawiecki, the extent of the pollution is so great that it could take years for the river ecosystem to recover.
Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced on Thursday that soldiers and reservists were deployed to help remove pollutants from the river, known as the Oder in German and the Odra in Polish and Czech. It flows hundreds of kilometers north from the Oder Mountains in the Czech Republic and empties into the Baltic Sea.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.
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