Update: Rise in sulfur dioxide could be sign of mass cremations in Wuhan

Windy map shows spike in SO2 emissions from Wuhan, possibly signaling increased cremations

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Sulfur dioxide concentrations in Wuhan. (Windy.com screenshot)

Sulfur dioxide concentrations in Wuhan. (Windy.com screenshot)

Update: 02/15 3:00 p.m.

In an interview with the Taiwan FactCheck Center, WeatherRisk Explore Inc. President Peng Chi-ming (彭啟明) said that Czech company Windy derives its data on pollutants from NASA's GEOS-5 simulation system, which is not based on real-time satellite data, but rather "near-real-time" estimates derived from past emissions levels. Peng said the burning of oil or coal would produce high levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), while the human body is mainly composed of hydrocarbons and proteins.

Peng said that cremations of human corpses would produce more in the way of nitrogen oxides (NOx) than SO2. Peng added that even if coal, gas, or oil was used to burn the bodies, it would be unlikely to produce such a large concentration of sulfur dioxide.

Update: 02/13 3:40 p.m.

Publicly available satellite images from NASA's Fire Information for Rescue Management System (FIRMS) show dramatically increased open-air fires during the period of the Wuhan virus outbreak from Jan. 11 to Feb. 11, compared with October 2019.

The image below shows open-air fires in Wuhan (LAT 30.5, LON 114.6) in October 2019, which precedes the earliest reported cases of the disease. In this image, a few scattered fires in dark blue signifying a "fire radiative power" (FRP) of 1 and light blue, signifying an FRP of 5 can be seen.

The second image shows open-air fires in and around the city from Jan. 11 to Feb. 11. Over this period there is a noticeable increase of fires in dark blue, light blue, and green which signifies an FRP of 10.

Update: 02/12 11:00 p.m.

A staffer from a funeral home in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, claims the number of bodies she and her co-workers have had to transport and cremate each day is four to five times higher than the usual amount. Based on the account of the Wuhan funeral home staffer, the daily average number of bodies suspected of being coronavirus victims is estimated at 225, or 4,725 bodies, at a single Wuhan funeral home since Jan. 22.

There are eight registered funeral homes in Wuhan. If the account of the funeral home staffer is true, this would mean there are 1,628 deaths per day in the city and 34,200 over the past 21 days.

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Data from Windy.com on Sunday (Feb. 9) showed heightened levels of sulfur dioxide around Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), causing some to speculate that it is a sign of mass cremations of victims of the deadly disease.

On Sunday, images of Windy.com maps started to appear on social media, showing an alarmingly high level of sulfur dioxide being released, with no other city in China showing similar concentrations with the exception of Chongqing. Over the past few weeks, the death toll from the Wuhan virus has continued to mount, and as the true numbers appear to be suppressed, there have been accounts and anecdotal evidence of disproportionate use of crematoria in Wuhan.

Intelewave on Sunday shared an image on Twitter showing sulfur dioxide levels soaring to 1700ug/m^3 on a map of Wuhan on Windy.com, far above the danger level of 80ug/m^3. Intelewave listed a few possible explanations for this increase in emissions, with the first being a power plant.

However, none of China's numerous other power plants were seen emitting such large numbers that day. The second possibility proposed was the burning of refuse and animal carcasses, but the author questioned why such burning would be taking place as opposed to the standard practice of burying garbage.

The third possibility proposed was that: "Dead bodies are being burned on the outskirts of the city, the death numbers are way higher than the CCP is letting on about, and things are really, really bad." One netizen even calculated that it would take the burning of 14,000 bodies to reach such a high level of SO2.

According to the Department of Public Health of the U.S. state of Georgia, crematories release a wide variety of chemicals besides SO2, such as "mercury, dioxin, hydrochloric acid, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and dioxins." Twitter user Vet Watching pointed out the elevated SO2 levels could also be explained by burning of tons of contaminated medical waste.

Environmental scientist Dr. Jorge Emmanuel was cited by Health Care Without Harm as saying the burning of medical supplies releases a number of pollutants, including "fly ash; heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, copper, mercury and lead; acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxides, and nitrogen oxides; carbon monoxide; and organic compounds. "