Environmental catastrophe on the Oder: “There is a massive cover-up”.

9 mins read

There are so many dead fish at the river that they can hardly be recovered, all life is destroyed under water. Did highly toxic mercury get into the water? That’s what an expert from Nabu Brandenburg says

A huge environmental disaster has occurred on the Oder River. Up to ten tons of fish corpses are said to have already been recovered. They have never seen anything like it, say local fishing champions. We spoke with Christiane Schröder, executive director of Nabu Brandenburg, about the damage found so far, the possible causes and the consequences for people living along the river.

Berliner Zeitung: Ms. Schröder, what exactly is going on at the Oder right now?

Christiane Schröder: I think we would all like to know that. The first dead fish have turned up in Poland. Unfortunately, the Polish authorities are keeping extremely quiet about what happened on their side. We are still, literally, poking around in murky waters. What we do know is: there is a dramatic fish kill, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Underwater, all life is being destroyed, for example, mussels, insect larvae, crabs and so on. But how great the extent of the die-off really is, we can’t even gauge at the moment.

Have you been to the Oder yourself and seen the situation for yourself?

Not yet. But I have received many pictures and videos from our volunteers. Colleagues on the ground tell me: Actually, you can’t be on or near the river right now, because the decomposition of the fish creates an unbelievable stench. Apparently, it is now also becoming increasingly difficult to recover the fish corpses at all, because they decompose very quickly due to the high temperatures and are no longer tangible.

What insights do you have into how this could have happened?

There are various speculations about this. But one thing is certain: What we are seeing on the Oder right now must have been caused by human influence. At first, it was said that it was a benzene, a chemical-organic substance that got into the water. That would have had dramatic effects. Now, however, the authorities have apparently also detected mercury in the water. That would be the absolute super-GAU.

More oxygen in the water than is actually normal.

Christiane Schröder, Managing Director of Nabu Landesverband


Mercury is an extremely toxic substance. You may remember that there used to be thermometers that worked with mercury. They don’t exist anymore because the substance is so highly toxic. It doesn’t just break down, it stays in nature for centuries. It accumulates in the food chains, which means that if birds or otters eat the dead fish now, they will also die. And right now we can’t say anything about how high the concentration in the Odra River really is, because it is completely outside any expected value. The thresholds for mercury are very low. There should be none at all in drinking water, and it’s not expected in the river either.

What are the effects of the low water on the Oder and the high temperatures?

These factors are now aggravated: the less water there is on the river, the higher the concentration of the substances. And actually it is said: the higher the temperatures, the lower the oxygen. Oddly enough, we just see that the oxygen levels are higher than usual.

How can this be?

There are chemicals that decay when they come into contact with water. And one of the waste products is oxygen. However, in the case of mercury, it just isn’t. This suggests that we are dealing with a whole cocktail of toxic substances.

Suppose there has indeed been a discharge with high levels of mercury into the river. Where could that have come from?

Right now, we can only speculate. On the one hand, it could come from the chemical industry. If it went really badly, then it was a terrorist attack or something deliberate. That would be extremely scary. But it could also be that during the construction work for the expansion of the Oder River in Poland – which is being pushed forward despite all protests from the German side – sediment layers were dredged that are contaminated with mercury. Many decades ago, this was once used to dissolve other metals from the rock. Whether this leads to concentrations that trigger such fish kills, I cannot judge.

An international commission of inquiry is needed.

Christiane Schröder, Managing Director of the Nabu National Association.

The Polish environmental authority announced yesterday that no toxic substances had been detected in the water. How should this be assessed?

From my point of view, we now need an international commission of inquiry to clarify this. I assume that toxic discharges have taken place on the Polish side and that there is now a massive cover-up. Why that is beyond my knowledge. But it is absolutely clear that something went dramatically wrong there. Even if there had been no toxic substances, the Poles would have had a duty to warn the German authorities directly when the first dead fish appeared. This did not happen.

What good would it have done if warnings had been issued earlier?

An attempt could have been made to erect barriers near the point of entry that could have prevented the chemicals from flowing down the river. Of course, that would have involved a lot of effort, a lot of expense, a task force, but it would still be better than mercury actually getting into the Oder Delta now and eventually into the Baltic Sea. That would be an absolute catastrophe that we would have to deal with for the next hundred years.

What does this incident mean for people living near the Odra river?

Very acutely, it means that you should avoid the Oder River at all costs. Especially if you are traveling with dogs or children. In the long term, it’s hard to say, it depends on what we’re dealing with now. But for fisheries on the river and tourism, it’s going to be felt over a long period of time.

What can we do to avoid such dramatic incidents in the future?

Above all, we should learn from this that we need much closer international cooperation. In this case with Poland, but the same applies to other countries. What we see, however, is that we already have problems within Germany in setting up protected areas across federal states. There is a lot wrong with communication. And this incident is once again a sign of how selfishly we humans treat our nature. Take Poland, for example: it’s better to cover up than to clear up. We are acting far too much in relation to ourselves.

the original source of the news: https://www.berliner-zeitung.de

Salih Demir

Salih Demir lives in Germany. He is interested in politics and economy. Germany editor of -ancient idea- fikrikadim.com

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