Dead fish were first spotted on the Oder River in Oława at the end of July. A wave of contaminated water passed Wrocław, then flowed through Lubuskie province, and on August 12th has already reached Szczecin. The causes of the disaster remain unknown. LAST UPDATED ON AUGUST 21.
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July 16

  • The Civic Fishing Guard employee Maciej Wycech spots dead fish in the Oder a few kilometres North of Wrocław. He informed all regional authorities, such as the police, the Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, and the Polish Angling Association. Only the latter reacted.

July 26

  • Fishermen find the first dead fish in Oława, Lower Silesian Province

July 28

  • Wrocław’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection (Wojewódzki Inspektor Ochrony Środowiska) probes the water between Lipka sluice and Oława in three spots, does not discover signs of depleted oxygen or dead fish

July 31

  • Fishermen pull out almost 8 tons of dead fish

August 1

  • Oława mayor Tomasz Frischmann alerts the provincial governor of Lower Silesia Province, Jarosław Obremski and others about the fish die-offs and potential pollution

August 3

  • Wrocław’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection announces the presence of mesitylene in Lipka sluice and Oława with an 80% probability rate

August 9

  • Dead fish spotted in Wrocław
  • Thousands of dead fish, murky and smelly water in Odra in Nowa Sól and Krosno Odrzańskie, Lubuskie Province
  • First dead fish spotted in Cigacice, Lubuskie Province

August 10

  • Dead fish reach West Pomerania
  • Lubuskie Province governor Władysław Dajczak says that no excessive amounts of toxins were found in the Lubusz part of the Odra River
  • Katowice’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection says that no pollution was found in the Gliwice Canal
  • Wrocław’s Regional Water Management Board urges local residents not to enter the river

August 11

  • Wrocław’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection informs the public about filing a notice over suspected environmental crime issued to the District Prosecutor’s office. He also states that water samples taken after August 1 contain no mesitylene.
  • Dead fish found in various places in Brandenburg.
  • Biggest German newspapers, Frankfurt city, and provinces of Oder-Spree, Märkisch-Oderland, and Uckermark warn inhabitants against approaching the Oder river and eating river fish.
  • Zielona Góra’s Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection recommends not approaching the Oder River for fishing or recreational purposes.
  • Fishing banned on the Lower Silesia part of the Oder at least until the end of September.
  • Soldiers mobilised to collect dead fish.
  • German outlet rbb informs the public that Brandenburg experts found mercury in Oder samples.

August 12

  • Firefighters take out over 3 tons of dead fish from the river near Krosno Odrzańskie. Some of them have burned gills.
  • First dead fish found in Szczecin.
  • Maciej Karczyński from the Regional Inspectorate of Environmental Protection states that samples  collected in the Lubuskie Province, West Pomerania, and Lower Silesia do not contain mercury.
  • Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki dismisses the Main Inspector for Environmental Protection and the head of Polish Waters.
  • Inhabitants of the Lubuskie Province, West Pomerania, and Lower Silesia receive an official alert not to approach the river.
  • Brandenburg’s environmental minister Axel Vogel says that the fish could have died from high salinity.
  • First barriers are set up to catch floating dead fish.

August 13

  • Wrocław District Prosecutor opens a special unit to investigate the spill.
  • The police announce a million zloty reward for helping to catch the culprit responsible for the spill.

August 14

  • First German-Polish emergency meeting in Szczecin. Officials decide on improving communications channels.
  • Polish Waters start investigating companies located next to the Oder River.
  • Polish translator misinterprets the question to Brandenburg’s Environment Minister Axel Vogel.

August 15

  • Polish Waters’ icebreakers deployed to clean up the river. Their main task is creating waves to bring cadavers up from the river floor.
  • Germans deploy barriers to catch floating dead fish.
  • Wrocław tests city waters, does not find mercury. Fish continue to die.
  • Germans share test results showing mercury in more stagnant backwaters.
  • Vogel calls the translation misinterpretation and its following misuse "outraging"
  • Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announces government spending on reintroducing fish to the river.
  • First lay-offs in fisheries and tourism companies in regions alongside the Oder River.
  • The oppositional Green party files a motion to dismiss all five provincial governors from regions affected by the water poisoning.

August 16

  • Barriers to block dead fish from entering the Lower Odra Valley Landscape Park announced – but the scale of the prevention not yet sufficient.
  • First meeting of the Odra group, tasked with finding solutions to the crisis. The group, which includes representatives of the Polish Angling Association (Polski Związek Wędkarski), pointed to a lack of monitoring systems and legislative chaos as key issues.
  • Fishermen light candles on the shore to commemorate the "river’s death".
  • Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa presents three currently investigated hypotheses: toxic substances from illegal discharges; natural conditions; and dumping of highly saline industrial waters. The Minister also announced the building of a new water monitoring system.
  • No alarming signs noticed so far in the Warta Mouth National Park.
  • Entrepreneurs from the Oder basin form a Coalition of Oder Bridges and announce bridge blockages until the government explains what and who caused the poisoning.
  • Erection of an inflatable bridge for Sail Szczecin (Żagle 2022) cancelled but the event will likely proceed, states West Pomerania Voivode.
  • Firefighters block an unknown, likely petroleum-derived, substance from entering the Oder from its tributary close by Opole.

August 17

Catastrophe’s progress 

  • Clean-up efforts collect over 100 tonnes of dead fish so far. 
  • The toxin is reaching the Lower Odra Valley Landscape Park. The barriers cannot cope with the influx of dead fish.
  • Szczecin braces for more dead fish by erecting barriers.
  • Wroclaw president Jacek Sutryk informs that no mesitylene or mercury is present in the city’s waters.
  • The Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection informs that the river’s condition is improving. Oxygen levels are dropping but high salinity remains, surpassing the norm by 5-6 times in the worst-affected areas.
  • Oxygen levels drop dramatically in the Oder on its last Northern part in the West Pomerania region. This drop is a reversal of an opposite anomaly from the previous days when the river was over-oxygenated. Now, the surviving fish risk suffocating. 

Finding the culprit

  • Fishermen tried to bring dead fish for testing in July but were told that the laboratory does not have appropriate reagents, shared director of the Polish Angling Association in Wroclaw. The fish were burned, prompting fears of invaluable evidence being lost. 
  • Researchers from Silesia Water Centre are testing water samples they collected between 15-24 July, which could provide an important comparison with later samples.

Citizen efforts

  • "We want to say, with all the responsibility, that the lack of competence, engagement, and appropriate action on behalf of the government institutions caused the <Polish Chornobyl> currently happening in the river. Particularly the attitudes and lack of action shown by Polish Waters during the crucial first days of the crisis" writes the leader of the Polish Angling Association Beata Olejarz.
  • The first protest of the Coalition of Oder Bridges takes place in Cigacice. Protesters call for the government to create a river rescue plan in consultation with entrepreneurs, inhabitants, and ecologists.
  • The dean of the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin establishes a team of independent scientists. The team will join in on the efforts to explain the catastrophe and come up with a rescue plan.
  • Experts and scientists create a Facebook group "Experts for the Oder". The group encourages local councils to test surface- and groundwater on their own without waiting for the government results.

State response

  • The Climate and Environment Ministry praises the government’s response during a press conference.
  • Northern Economic Chamber calls for the immediate creation of a support program for entrepreneurs affected by the ecological catastrophe, such as the right to compensation or the exemption from rent or tax duties.
  • General Prosecutor Zbigniew Ziobro holds a joint conference with Prosecutor Krzysztof Sierak and Climate vice-minister Jacek Ozdoba. Ziobro accuses Lower Silesia Voivodeship of too slow action and expresses discontent over dismissing the director of the Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection, Michał Mistrzak.
  • A joint session of the Maritime Economy and Inland Shipping Commission and the Environmental Protection, Natural Resources, and Forestry Committee takes place

August 18

Finding the culprit

  • Polish and German researchers find an invasive species of microorganisms, Prymnesium Parvum, in the Oder river samples. The species was never recorded in Poland before. It can produce a toxin able to kill fish and mussels but only under specific conditions, which were amply present in the Oder. The Oder-specific conditions were highly saline water, likely due to an industrial dump, and very low water levels due to the prolonging drought.

Citizen efforts 

  • A protest against the government's inaction takes place in Opole (Opole Voivodeship). The organizers demand an immediate ousting of the officials responsible for the catastrophe, punishment for ruining Poland’s environmental heritage, reliable information on what poisoned the Oder, and a report explaining the procedures of crisis management during an ecological catastrophe.

State response 

  • The Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection leaks data of every citizen who alarmed the Inspectorate about the Oder poisoning via a likely accidental email. The leak includes surnames, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
  • The Voivodeship Inspectorate of Environmental Protection shows that the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection was aware of mass fish die-offs in three Voivodeships as early as August 3. The information only reached the PM a week later. The citizens received an alert nine days later.
  • No government representative shows up at the Senate session of the extraordinary commission for climate matters tackling the Oder River catastrophe. "This is a trampling of the state institution of the Senate which contradicts the Constitution, as state institutions are obliged to cooperate," Senator Magdalena Kochan, who led the session, assessed. Opposition and independent Senators put forward a motion to receive a full explanation of when the parliament learned about the catastrophe and what exact actions it undertook.
  • The Commission of Environmental Protection and Water Management, a body of the Lower Silesia Voivodeship Regional Council, holds a session. Representatives of various public services, such as the police, Polish Waters, or the public health inspection, presented their reports on the state of the Oder. A Polish Waters representative Mariusz Przybylski called accusations of the institution’s slow action "slander" and expressed hope for "legal and political consequences" for those voicing the accusations. 

August 19

Catastrophe’s progress

  • Bans to use the Oder get extended: until August 22 in Lubusz Voivodeship and August 25 in West Pomerania Voivodeship. The extensions will likely continue.  

Finding the culprit 

  • „While the golden algae [an invasive microorganism species Prymnesium Parvum] could be the direct cause of the fish die-offs, they are not present in the Oder River naturally. We have not dealt with this species before. The algae probably would not wreak such havoc without additional factors, such as high water salinity" - explains Dr Ing. Łukasz Weber, who specializes in water treatment technologies.  
  • Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa visits the Oder river at the spot where golden algae were first detected. Moskwa pledged research to find out what conditions allowed the algae to develop in the river.

Citizen efforts

  • A protest against the Oder destruction takes place by the Lower Silesia Regional Office. "This government let us down. This is not only an ecological catastrophe but also a catastrophe for the Polish state" - stated an ecologist during the protest. 
  • Actor Sebastian Machalski’s parody song about the catastrophe goes viral on TikTok. "I have an industrial plant by the river, what can go wrong?" asks Machalski.

State response 

  • Voivodes ask mayors of big cities to share information on which companies are allowed to discharge their wastewater into the rivers, with very short deadlines. 
  • Lower Silesia Voivode Jarosław Obremski strikes back at General Prosecutor Zbigniew Ziobro, suggests the prosecutor got misinformed over the voivode’s inaction. Obremski informed that his office alerted the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection on August 3. He also called the hypothesis that industrial water dumps contributed to the ecological crisis "the least probable". 
  • The leader of the opposition party Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) and ex-PM Donald Tusk meets with Krosno Odrzańskie inhabitants to find solutions for reviving the river. 
  • Lubusz MPs from the Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska) start a parliamentary audit of institutions responsible for the river water quality, to discover why such administrative chaos took place.  
  • Wroclaw’s Regional Prosecutor summons the city’s Greens Party (Partia Zielonych) representatives to testify as witnesses in the Party’s motion to dismiss five provincial governors from voivodeships affected by the poisoning.
  • The Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Krzysztof Ciecióra announces compensations to those most affected by the Oder river ban. For now, assessments of economic damage and the scale of needed aid are taking place. The Vice-Minister shared no further details about the support plan.
  • „The work of our whole institute now focuses on safeguarding the fish that ran away, so that we can secure the genetic material and recreate the population," shares Dr Ing. Grzegorz Dietrich from the Inland Fisheries Institute (Instytut Rybactwa Śródlądowego). The institute discovered the golden algae in the Oder.

August 20

Catastrophe’s progress

  • Oxygen levels drop dramatically in the Western Oder, which so far remained less affected by the catastrophe. Films circulating on social media show suffocating fish. 

Citizen efforts

  • Inhabitants from Siadło Dolne and Moczyły, nearby Szczecin, organize an action to oxygenate the Western Oder River. Regional firefighters join in.
  • Over 21 500 people sign a petition calling on PM Mateusz Morawiecki to "find the culprits of the Oder River ecological catastrophe and hold them accountable".

August 21

Catastrophe’s progress

  • Critically low oxygen levels remain in the Oder in West Pomerania. The fresh crisis reached the centre of Szczecin, where the State Fire Service (Państwowa Straż Pożarna) installed pumps to locally oxygenate the river.

Citizen efforts

  • Funeral marches take place in Warsaw and Łódź to commemorate the ecological catastrophe. 

August 22

  • Fishermen in Opole Voivodeship are not allowed to collect their catch until the end of the year, rules the Polish Angling Association. The "catch and let free" (złów i wypuść) rule aims to protect the river fauna. 

***

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