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Massive fish die-off in Poland’s Oder river raises fear for future

On August 11, as hundreds of dead fish approached the banks of the Oder River in the western Polish village of Widuchowa, locals realised an ecological disaster that began in late July in the country’s south-west was going towards the Baltic Sea.


As locals of Widuchowa scrambled for tools to take the lifeless bodies from the river, the government launched a crisis response that many scientists believe was too late.


‘It’s been the most difficult five days of my life,’ said Pawel Wrobel, mayor of Widuchowa, which is some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the village where the dead fish were discovered. ‘I’d never anticipated living through such a disaster; it’s something you see in disaster movies.’


He gathered dozens of pitchforks, which were used to pull potatoes, to remove dead fish from the river, which forms part of the Polish-German border.


‘We don’t know how to do it or what tools to use, so we learn by making mistakes,’ Wrobel explained.


On August 12, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sacked the heads of Poland’s national water management authority and the general environmental inspectorate, claiming that their organisations should have acted sooner.


Despite countless examinations of fish and water samples undertaken by Polish and foreign laboratories, as well as a one-million-zloty ($211,775) reward for information on the source of contamination, it remains unknown what poisoned Poland’s second largest river, the Oder.


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