The Danube 'loses' its blue due to plastic pollution (Environment Feature)

Vienna Of the beautiful "Blue Danube" to which Johann Strauss dedicated the famous Viennese waltzes in 1867, it is only the name that remains. Instead there are never-before-seen levels of plastics, garbage and industrial wastes in the river, according to a recent study published in the Austrian capital.

Every day, the Danube carries an average of 4.2 tonnes of waste till the Black Sea, said the report that was prepared by the Department of Limnology and Biological Oceanography of the University of Vienna.

Austrian scientists, who were "surprised" by the pollution levels, collected nearly a thousand samples in the years 2010 and 2012 over 80 km of the river between the cities of Vienna and Bratislava. The results of the study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, are alarming: the water of the second longest river in Europe contains a higher concentration of waste than fish.

In the 900 water samples that were taken from the river, the quantity and size of the plastic waste was even more than the larvae of fish, the Austrian scientists said.

The stretch of the river between the capitals of Austria and neighbouring Slovakia, in particular, has an average of 317 plastic particles and 275 larvae of fish per every 1,000 cubic metre of water.

With the help of a special system, shaped like a funnel with holes of a diameter of half a millimetre, the scientists collected samples from the banks of the river. Along with the fish larvae, appeared a considerable number of small, microscopic plastic particles, 80 percent of which come from industrial production, the study revealed.

Consequently, the river carries more than 1,500 tonnes of waste up to the Black Sea each year.

According to the study, only in Germany and Austria, the first two countries through which the Danube flows, are there dozens of plastic production and processing plants on the river's banks.

"The contribution of these factories to the pollution of the river is evident," said Hubert Keckeis, one of the researchers who was involved in the scientific study.

The problem is compounded by the effect of the pollution on the fish larvae, insects and birds which "confuse the waste material with food," he said in statements to EFE.

In most of the cases, intake of those waste materials can cause poisoning that can be fatal for the animals.

Although the river flows directly through only 10 countries covering an area of 2,800 km, the geographical and human area that affects its waters is even bigger: 80 million people in 19 countries.

The excessive amount of nutrients in the water, proceeding mainly from the fertiliser used in agriculture, and the insufficient treatment of the waste water are two of the main problems of pollution.

Therefore, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube (ICPDR), an international organisation headquartered in Vienna, is constantly launching campaigns of environmental education and awareness to reduce the waste in the river.

Every year, on June 29, the ICPDR celebrates the Danube Day, organising workshops and excursions to explain the importance of protecting this great European river.

One of the proposals of the ICPDP is the use of cloth bags to reduce plastic waste, in addition to imposing economic sanctions on polluting parties.

Keckeis supports this two-pronged strategy of education and fines, although he insists that "the main thing will always be the citizens' engagement".

Only then will it be possible to avoid and reduce plastic consumption and once again have "beautiful banks", as in the famous waltz by Strauss.

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