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Fears for the future after a fish kill in Poland’s Oder River

Fears for the future after a fish kill in Poland's Oder River
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WIDUCHOWA, Poland, Aug 20 (Reuters) – As thousands of dead fish washed up on the banks of the Oder River in the village of Widuchowa in western Poland on Aug. 11, local people realized an environmental disaster that began in the country’s south in late July. -Went west to the Baltic Sea.

As residents of Viduchoa searched for equipment to remove lifeless bodies from the river, the government launched a crisis response that many scientists say came too late.

“It’s been the hardest five days of my life,” said Pavel Robel, the mayor of Viduchoara, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the town where the first dead fish were spotted. “I never imagined experiencing such a disaster, it’s something you see in disaster movies.”

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With the help of the local community, he collected dozens of pitchforks, used to pick potatoes, to remove dead fish from the river, which marks part of the Polish-German border.

“We don’t know how to do it and what tools to use, we learn from our mistakes,” says Wrobel.

On August 12, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki fired the head of Poland’s National Water Management Authority and the head of the General Environmental Inspectorate, saying their institutions should have reacted earlier. Read more

Despite numerous tests of fish and water samples conducted by Polish and foreign laboratories and a 1-million-water ($211,775) reward for information about the source of the contamination, it is still unclear what caused the poisoning in Poland’s second-largest river, the Oder.

“We are focusing on stopping what is happening on the one hand and investigating the reasons for this situation on the other,” said Aleksandar Brzozka, a spokesman for the climate ministry.

Researchers from climate ministries in Germany and Poland point to a major overgrowth of toxic algae as a possible cause of the mass die-off. Read more

“The likely combination hypothesis is that it was one of several natural factors,” Brzozka said.

‘something’s wrong’

Locals told Reuters that firefighters and regional defense forces deployed by the government to remove tons of dead fish were not prepared for what awaited them in the river.

According to the villagers, the stench around the water was so bad that most of them vomited during their work.

Local businesses have also been affected.

When Piotr Bugaj, an avid angler and boat owner, heard what was coming to rent a slip and room on the Oder, he knew it was time to put his business on hold.

He asked his guests from the Czech Republic to leave the water and canceled all future reservations from clients, who flock to Viduchov√° from around Europe for its wild and diverse populations of large fish such as catfish and pike-perch.

“If such a tragedy is possible, I would really like to learn that only what was on the surface died and nothing more. But for the moment, no one has examined what is currently at the bottom of the river,” he said.

The government has pledged support for those affected by the crisis.

Piotr Piznal, a local activist, has dedicated his life to photographing wildlife around the Oder. He has been documenting the disaster for the past week.

“It’s hard because in reality, the world that we’ve observed and photographed with my friend over the past few years is disappearing,” he says. “I think it’s going to take years for the ecosystem to rebuild after what happened in the Oder… It’s going to have to regenerate to work the way it’s worked so far.”

Meanwhile, fear and uncertainty prevail among the residents of Widuchowa.

“The dead fish warned us that something was wrong,” said Sylvia Palasz-Robel, wife of the mayor of Widuch√≥w, standing next to her husband on the banks of the Foul Oder. “When the fish are gone, who will tell us the next time there is a disaster? We want to know who is responsible.” ($1 = 4.7220 jolts)

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Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Kuba Stezycki, Editing by Alan Charlish and Alex Richardson

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