At least 10 tonnes of dead fish have been pulled from the Oder River which flows along part of Poland’s border with Germany – with authorities warning people not to enter the water due to possible contamination.

Fishermen and volunteers have removed dead fish from a 200 km (124 mile) stretch of the river north of Olawa, in southwestern Poland, said the head of the agency which manages the national waters of the country.

Przemyslaw Daca, head of State Water Holding, also described the situation as a gigantic ecological disaster.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has vowed to punish those responsible after environmental authorities said they tipped off prosecutors about potential contamination in the country’s second-longest river.

At least 10 tonnes of fish have been removed from the river

Ewa Drewniak, a biologist working with the opposition political group Civic Coalition, accused the government of not reacting quickly enough.

“Dead fish have been flowing in the Oder for two weeks and people are unaware of it, I saw dozens of people bathing in the river a week and a half ago, they were unaware of the danger, it’s outrageous,” she said.

Regional environmental authorities in the Polish city of Wroclaw said samples of Oder river water taken on July 28 showed an 80% probability that they contained the toxic substance mesitylene, although this was not present in the samples taken after August 1st.

Low river levels due to drought in Europe may have aggravated possible contamination, Daca said on Wednesday.

He added that they suspect a strong oxidizing agent may have entered the water, causing oxygen levels to rise, which can harm fish.

Mr Daca also said there was no reason to panic and the situation was improving.

Several German districts bordering Poland have warned residents to avoid the river water and not to eat fish from the Oder until the cause of the fish’s death is clear.

“The reports on the Oder are just terrible,” Michael Kellner, a senior politician from Germany’s Greens party, said on Twitter.

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