On Monday, Wuhan was covered in a thick yellow fog as levels of 10-micron particulate matter (PM10) climbed to peaks of over .6 milligrams per cubic metre, four times the national daily average. The cause of the extreme pollution was at first no clearer than the air itself. Rumours, unlike some expiring birds, flew; the city’s French consulate issued and then withdrew an advisory statement which mentioned a possible industrial chlorine leak. At Bloomberg, Adam Minter explored some of the various theories:
Two theories on the deadly smog soon emerged. The most popular, and the least serious, was that Wuhan’s high school students were burning their books in the wake of graduation and the much-hated college entrance examination. The more serious was that a large-scale industrial accident had taken place. Boiled Universe, the handle of a Wuhan-based Sina Weibo user of no great importance, was one of hundreds of microbloggers who offered a variation: “It’s said that a boiler explosion at Wuhan Iron & Steel caused large volumes of toxic dust and smoke to spread, enveloping the whole of Wuhan, and the death of two people.” Others not only promoted the rumor, they did so by re-tweeting what they claimed was a photo of a chlorine gas leak at Wuhan Iron & Steel. (Another microblogger later offered definitive proof that the photo was six months old).
Someone from Wuhan Iron & Steel Co. Ltd, clearly incensed by the rumor-mongering, logged into the company’s Sina Weibo account (the company has 900 followers, billions in revenue) to deny responsibility for the haze . But that was destined to go nowhere: Few in China are going to take the word of a giant state-owned steel company, especially when it comes to rumors about large industrial accidents. By mid-afternoon, fears of a chlorine gas
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