I was perplexed by a long string of strange comments about the Hulk when I checked into my QQ chat group this morning. To give it some context, they were made by my ex-classmates now living in Wuhan.  A shiver went down my spine when I saw the word “chlorine.” A guy remarked that he might metamorphose into lü ju ren or a chlorine giant, which is a homophone for “the Hulk” in Chinese.

Reading earlier comments further up the chat window, I was able to piece out what might have happened in Wuhan on Monday, June 11, 2012: there was an intense yellow fog that arrived with no warning and then enveloped the entire city; visibility dropped beyond belief; and nobody has ever seen such an unusual weather condition.

Wuhan 6/11 Haze / source: zzxinwenwang.i.sohu.com

I then started my own frantic research into this mysterious haze. Apparently, there were rumors of a chlorine gas leak as well as an explosion at a local chemical plant. However, these claims are false. In the most recent official report by Xinhua News, straw burning is called forward as the most probable and plausible cause.

According to analyses by meteorological monitoring agencies, hazy weather occurred in wheat harvest regions in Anhui, Hunan, and a few nearby provinces. Due to northeast winds traveling at 8-12 m/s (28.8 – 43.2 km/h) 1,500-3,000 m (4,900 – 9800 ft) above the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, harmful particulates are blown south. Because Wuhan and its vicinity are in a subsidence area and the air is humid, these harmful particulates descend from the sky and form a thick haze.

Hopefully a comprehensive report will be released to the public soon because many people remain skeptical about the current official explanation.

Additionally, given the overall bad air quality in China, the haze is a wake-up call for the Chinese government to stop focusing on China’s GDP growth at the expense of its environment.

If, however, the burning of stubble and other agricultural residue left out after harvest is found to be the true cause, I hope China will not delay educating its farmers about the adverse environmental effects of this practice and help them acquire the necessary tools and technologies to either compost straw or turn it into biofuel.