Zero Pollution: New report draws lessons from Oder River ecological disaster

Image by Kireyonok_Yuliya on FreepikImage by Kireyonok_Yuliya on Freepik

An EU report published today analyses the massive fish kill in the Oder River in July and August 2022, one of the largest ecological disasters in Europe in recent history. The analysis by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the European Environment Agency identifies the likely causes and proposes recommendations to help prevent such catastrophes from happening again.

According to the scientific evidence in the report, the deaths of around 360 tonnes of fish were caused by a substantial toxic algae bloom identified as Prymnesium parvum. A key factor that enabled the proliferation of this brackish water species is most likely the high salinity of the Oder River during this time, resulting from discharges of industrial wastewater with a high salt content e.g. from industrial activities such as mining. Other contributing factors were the drought and the resulting low water levels reducing dilution and flow. Elevated nutrient concentrations, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, are also a key component contributing to such blooms.

Given the continued presence and spread of this invasive algal species, management strategies to prevent future occurrence of events of this nature must now be prioritised not only in the Oder River, but also in other susceptible European river basin districts, which the report indicates.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “The 2022 Oder River fish kill was a stark reminder of how human induced pollution, coupled with biodiversity loss and climate change, can create a perfect storm, with dire consequences for people, the economy and planet. We cannot allow a similar disaster to ever happen again. I warmly welcome this new report and invite competent national authorities to rigorously implement its recommendations. The full implementation of current legislation as well as our proposed improvements to EU laws related to industry and waters will be our shield against such disasters in the future.”

The report highlights key recommendations to prevent future ecological disasters in EU rivers, such as to improve knowledge and monitoring, response, risk and environmental management, have an up-to-date public inventory of emissions, and others. Further information is in the news item.