Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) fears a loss of public confidence if the background to the fish kill on the Oder is not clarified. At the meeting with her Polish counterpart on Sunday in Szczecin, she demanded that everything be done to clarify who was responsible, said Lemke in the ARD “Morgenmagazin” on Monday.
All decision-makers are now responsible for identifying this polluter. “There would be a massive loss of trust, especially among the Polish population, but probably also among us if that didn’t succeed.”
The fact that information about the fish kill from Poland only reached the German side very late now makes it more difficult to identify the cause of the damage, said Lemke. The Green politician is now striving for better coordination.
“The question of German-Polish cooperation obviously didn’t work at this point (…), otherwise we would have received information earlier, at least from the state of Brandenburg or the neighboring municipalities,” said Lemke on Saturday evening in Frankfurt (Oder). There, helpers had collected many dead fish from the shore.
“In fact, we know that this reporting chain, which is intended for such cases, did not work,” a spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment had previously said. Brandenburg had also openly criticized that it had not been informed by the Polish authorities.
Lemke said that she and her Polish counterpart Anna Moskwa had already agreed in a first meeting on Friday that there should be a joint expert assessment of the situation and an exchange of the analysis results. She announced further talks with Moskva. “And we will certainly deepen the topic at the German-Polish environmental council the week after next.”
Lemke was moved by what the official and volunteer helpers had achieved and thanked them. “You also have to thank the anglers, who obviously drew attention very quickly after noticing the first dead fish.” Citizens reacted attentively here, even without knowing the reasons for the deaths.
The still existing ignorance about the extent of the catastrophe, the length and the consequences for the food chain and nature, “that worries me massively,” said Lemke. “But precautions to protect the population are taken by the measurements and then by appropriate warnings from the German side.”
According to the Polish government, increased mercury levels are not the cause of the fish deaths in the Oder. This was the result of the first toxicological test results from samples of dead fish, wrote Poland’s Environment Minister Anna Moskwa on Twitter on Saturday. “The State Veterinary Institute tested seven species. It has ruled out mercury as a cause of fish deaths.” We are now waiting for the results of tests for other pollutants.
The death of fish in the Oder has been worrying people who live on the river in Poland and Germany for days. According to government information, Polish authorities had already received the first indications at the end of July that masses of dead fish were floating in the river.
The cause of the fish kill is still unclear. According to information from Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel (Greens), the Oder has “very much increased salt loads”. The term salt loads refers to salts dissolved in the water. Poland’s government suspects that the river was poisoned with chemical waste. Since the cause of the environmental disaster is suspected to be in Poland, accusations have already been made in Germany that the neighboring country did not provide information in good time and did not follow the usual reporting chain for such events.
Poland has offered a hefty reward for information leading to the capture of a perpetrator. The police have offered a sum of the equivalent of 210,000 euros, said Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik on Saturday in Gorzow Wielkopolski. “We want to find the culprits and punish the perpetrators of the environmental crime that is probably at stake here,” emphasized Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Poland’s government and authorities are under pressure because they have reacted too hesitantly to the fish kill. On Friday evening, Morawiecki had therefore dismissed the head of the water authority and the head of the environmental authority. He does not rule out further personnel consequences, said the head of government. Morawiecki admitted that he only found out about the massive fish kill on August 10th. “I was definitely informed too late.”
After a meeting with regional politicians, the opposition leader and former EU Council President Donald Tusk from the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO) called on the government to impose a state of emergency in the four voivodships on the Oder because of a natural disaster.
The Ministry of the Environment in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is now expecting the effects of the fish kill in the Oder on the Szczecin Lagoon. It is to be expected that the loads will already reach the mouth of the Oder near Szczecin (Poland) in the evening, depending on wind and current conditions, the ministry wrote in a statement late on Friday evening. In the course of Saturday, the Western Pomeranian part of the Szczecin Lagoon could also be affected.
As a precaution, the Ministry of Till Backhaus (SPD) therefore called on residents to refrain from fishing in and taking water from the water – regardless of use. The responsible authorities in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are currently preparing water and fish samples.
The mayor of Schwedt, Annekathrin Hoppe (SPD), called the death of fish in the Oder an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented dimensions. The Lower Oder Valley National Park has great fears that the effects will be so huge that they will last for years, Hoppe said on rbb Inforadio on Saturday. “For us, this poisoning situation, which has now built up in the Oder, is an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions.” Tourism and grazing and fishing are also severely affected.
On Saturday, an action to collect the carcasses began in Schwedt an der Oder. The emergency services are equipped with protective suits, said Hoppe in the rbb info radio. It can be assumed that there are substances that are hazardous to human health.
According to the district administration, the carcasses were taken to an incinerator in the afternoon after they had been collected. The fish would be disposed of in a facility approved by the State Environment Agency, said the spokeswoman for the district, Ramona Fischer, on Saturday. The incinerator is in Schwedt on the site of the PCK refinery.
The Lower Oder Valley National Park near Schwedt in the Uckermark was founded more than 25 years ago and is Germany’s only floodplain national park. The area on the German-Polish border is 50 kilometers long and covers an area of more than 10,000 hectares. It stretches along the western edge of the Oder from Hohensaaten in the south to Staffelde in the north. Waterfowl and other migratory birds use the area as a resting place.
Fish carcasses were also collected in other Brandenburg districts on Saturday. Around 300 emergency services have been on the road in the Märkisch-Oderland district for around 80 kilometers since Saturday morning, as the district spokesman Thomas Rubin said. “I reckon with several tons of fish that we get out.”
On the Oder in the small Brandenburg town of Lebus, not far from Frankfurt (Oder), an unpleasant smell had spread through the decomposition of the fish, a dpa reporter described. Birds can also be seen carrying away dead fish.
Helpers were equipped with gloves, rubber boots or waders. Sometimes boats are also used, said the spokesman for the district. According to him, the carcasses come in garbage bags, which are collected at several locations and then placed in containers.