All fish died in Slaná River in Slovakia after mine leak

Orange river between green trees and grass
The Slana river polluted by water containing high levels of iron from an iron ore mine flows near Nizna Slana, Slovakia May 18, 2022, credit: Reuters/Marton Monus

All fish in the Slaná River in Slovakia have died since the river suddenly turned orange in February. High levels of iron and zinc have been flowing into the river from an iron ore mine in the village of Nižná Slaná in eastern Slovakia. “It took three months for all the fish to die in the river,” local fisherman Tibor Varga said.

Slovak authorities say they are taking steps to reduce the amount of polluted water coming from the mine, which is state-owned. “Polluted water from the sub-storage of the Nižná Slaná iron mine has been flowing into the river without any dilution or treatment, and it has caused a serious ecological catastrophe on the Slovak part of the river,” state secretary Balazs Orban said.

Varga has been monitoring the river since the pollution started and said he has witnessed the slow death of wildlife due to the river’s high content of iron and zinc: “There is no living creature underneath the pebbles, we can see only rust.”

“The amount of iron is 22 times higher than the allowed amount. This high iron concentration covers the fish’s gill, and in the form of iron-oxide, it makes the surface where the fish breathe smaller, and the fish start to suffocate,” Varga said.

“All is dead in the river. I don’t know when at last, somebody will deal with this and stop it because it is like that for kilometres,” local resident Erika Varga said.

“We have been watching a live ecological catastrophe in Slovakia for almost three months now. The river is dying before our eyes, endangering the environment, biodiversity, and drinking water resources. Nevertheless, the situation is not improving,” Michal Wiezik, Member of the European Parliament, said.

The damage could become bigger since the Slaná River flows through Slovakia and Hungary and flows into the Tisza River, which flows into the Danube River. Iron will stick onto fish and cause them to die of suffocation.

The Hungarian water authority takes regular samples of water from the Slaná, called Sajó on the Hungarian side, and said the pollution on its side of the river had not yet damaged water quality or killed fish.

“What’s currently happening is a tragic symbol of the fact that nature conservation and protection cannot be an exclusively national issue in the 21st century. What is happening to the Sajó is a pan-European issue, and we must therefore act together,” Anna Juliá Donáth, Member of the European Parliament, said.

“There should be a Green Prosecutor in the EU who doesn’t just deal with financial matters but with serious environmental and social crimes. A prosecutor who will hold accountable those who damage our natural resources, endanger human lives and risk our future,” Donáth added.

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