Did the environmental catastrophe happen at the beginning of July?

Nfter the first laboratory analyses, there are increasing indications that the mass deaths of fish and mussels in the Oder were triggered earlier than was previously known. The Environment Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Till Backhaus (SPD), assumes that toxic substances must have been introduced into the border river between the beginning and middle of July, possibly “a little later”. The level of the Oder had risen by 30 centimeters without significant rainfall, and the salinity had also increased, he said at a press conference on Friday.

“Something must have happened, and that needs to be clarified.” However, Polish authorities point out that there was heavy rainfall in the upper reaches of the Oder in the Czech Republic. Satellite data could possibly help clarify the matter, said Backhaus. It had previously been assumed that the first indications of the poisoning appeared south of Wroclaw at the end of July.

The Brandenburg Environment Minister Axel Vogel (Greens) also reports in an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” that he now knows of several documented fish deaths in the Polish part of the Oder, on July 14th, 21st and 28th. At least the last one should have been reported immediately. There is a “Treaty on the International Commission for the Protection of the Oder against Pollution” which obliges the neighboring countries Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic to report any incidents. In the present case, however, the reporting chain was not set in motion for weeks.

The head of the West Pomeranian region concerned, Zbigniew Bogucki, who is represented by the national-conservative governing party PiS, countered the allegations of the late reporting. In several interviews, he accused the German authorities of inaction in the past few days. After the German authorities promised intensive work at the meeting of the environment ministers of Poland and Germany last Sunday, almost nothing happened, he claimed. While a total of 26 barriers to catch dead fish have been erected in Poland, there are only three on the German side on the same section of the river. He also criticized the fact that Chancellor Olaf Scholz, unlike the Polish Prime Minister, had not yet traveled to the Oder. “I did not see the German chancellor on the banks of the Oder, although that is our common river,” said Bogucki. According to a government spokesman, a visit has not yet been planned.

Till Backhaus (SPD), State Minister for the Environment of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with an angle cup on a telescopic pole in the port of Ueckermünde

Till Backhaus (SPD), State Minister for the Environment of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with an angle cup on a telescopic pole in the port of Ueckermünde

Image: dpa

Poland’s Environment Minister Anna Moskwa praised West Pomerania’s efficiency in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster on Friday. The erection of the catchment barriers is a measure “that helps to prevent any consequences from spreading to other animal species and the bank,” said Moskva in Gryfino (Greifenhagen) on the Oder. The minister called on the parliamentarians not to disturb the urgent work of the scientists by asking questions. Poland’s government is also under domestic pressure because of its late reaction to the catastrophe.

At various levels, authorities in Poland are blaming themselves for the late response to the disaster. After Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro claimed on Wednesday that the supreme environmental protection authority in Warsaw had not been informed by the responsible local authorities about the beginning of the fish kill, but had learned about it from the media, the management of the responsible Wroclaw province defended itself: All reporting chains had been complied with, the environmental authority in Warsaw had already been informed in writing on August 3rd.

As a consequence of the fish kill on the Oder, a debate has started in Poland about tightening environmental law and the establishment of new monitoring measures in the waters. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has spoken out in favor of punishing environmental polluters more severely in future. Environment Minister Moskva announced the establishment of a modern monitoring system to monitor the water quality in Poland’s rivers.

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