High salinity found in European river after fish die

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Laboratory tests following a mass die-off of fish have detected high salinity but no mercury in the waters of the Oder River in central Europe, Poland’s environment minister said on Saturday.

Anna Moskwa, the climate and environment minister, said analyzes of river samples taken in both Poland and Germany revealed elevated salt levels. Extensive toxicology studies are still underway in Poland, she said.

Moskwa wrote on Twitter that test results sent from Germany had so far not shown a high presence of mercury.

The Oder River flows from the Czech Republic, also known as the Czech Republic, along the border between Poland and Germany and empties into the Baltic Sea. Some German media had reported that the river could be poisoned with mercury.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “huge amounts of chemical waste” were likely deliberately dumped into his country’s second-longest river, causing environmental damage so severe that it would take years to restore the waterway.

On Saturday, Morawiecki pledged to do everything possible to limit environmental destruction. Poland’s interior minister said a reward of 1 million zloty ($200,000) will be paid to anyone who helps track down those responsible for polluting the river.

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

“The magnitude of the fish kill is shocking. This is a blow to the Oder as a waterway of great ecological value, from which it is unlikely to recover for long,” Alex Vogel, the environment minister for the German state of Brandenburg, along which the river runs.

The head of Polish Waters, 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 on the German side collecting dead fish.

German labs said they discovered “atypical” levels of “salts” that could be associated with the die-offs, but would not explain them on their own.

Morawiecki acknowledged that some government officials reacted “slowly” after huge numbers of dead fish were first seen floating and washing ashore.

Two Polish officials were fired for what Morawiecki described in their response as being late. “If I come to the conclusion that there is a serious breach of duty, there will be further consequences,” the prime minister said.

“For me, however, the most important thing is to tackle this ecological disaster as quickly as possible, because nature is our common heritage. It’s a national good,” Morawiecki said.

His comments were echoed by Schwedt mayor Annekathrin Hoppe, whose German town is adjacent to the Lower Oder Valley National Park. She called the pollution of the river “an environmental disaster of unprecedented magnitude” for the region.

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