Concerns: Cremation Emissions, Toxins and Air Quality

Some Americans are concerned that traditional cremations are actually environmentally problematic. They are only 10% greener than a traditional burial. The energy consumed in cremating bodies at temperatures of more than 900C or the dioxin and other gases released into the atmosphere in the process are seldom considered.

According to "A Guide to Natural Burial", author Ken West, says:

Incineration Cremation vaporizes the water content, soft tissue, and organs and converts them into polluting gases. If an average of two cremators are operated at the 260 UK crematoria during each working day, then every 90 minutes, the average time taken to complete a cremation, 520 bodies are incinerated together with 520 chipboard coffins, and plastic/fabric coffin liners and 2,080 plastic handles plus the gas used. Add to this an assumed 6 amalgam-filled teeth per body, a total of 3,120 mercury fillings, the emissions of which will drift on westerly winds and deposit through precipitation in the sea. The cod, plaice and other fish absorb this mercury through the food chain, which we ultimately eat.

Many crematoria are situated in densely populated areas. They release harmful emissions such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, sulphur dioxide, dioxins, furans, formaldehyde, and mercury; as well as tiny portions of dust, called particulates.

These combination of emissions and particulates are adding to those fron industrial processes, vehicles, and central heating boilers. This air pollution exceeds prescribed EU levels in many UK cities and contributes to respiration problems.

The government has accepted that mercury emissions pose a threat to human health and, by agreement with the federation of British Cremation Authorities (FBCA) at least 50% of cremations will be abated by the end of 2012.

Some metal residue remains after each after each cremation, hitherto interred in the crematorium grounds and a potential ground water pollution threat. Of the 260  crematoria, only 160 (62%) recycled this waste by 2009.

South Australia, research suggested that a conventional burial created 39kgs of carbon compared to unabated cremation at 160kgs.

It is important to note here that purchasing carbon credits with an incineration cremation, does not remove the toxins from the air that the cremation process itself produces.

Some Fire-based Cremation Pollution Facts

  • 16 gallons of gasoline is the equivalency "that each human cremation uses up", about when an SUV burns in nearly a 200-mile trip.
  • 32% Americans cremated each year.
  • 1% Increase of cremations each year in the USA.
  • 16% Mercury emissions in the UK as a result of gasses released during cremation.
  • 278 lbs. per year of Mercury Emissions in the US from cremation, that is "based on an average of 7 amalgam fillings per baby boomer."
  • 0.2% Global emission of dioxins and furans caused by cremation.
  • 42% Of cremated bodies that contain either metal or plastic implants that contribute to the dioxin release during cremation.
  • 10% Greener than traditional burial in a traditional gravesite.
  • 1,000 to 7,800 Pounds of Mercury released annually by cremations in the USA alone.
  • 83 Trips to the moon from the USA and back = the amount of energy spent to process 1 years worth of cremations in the USA.

Fire-based Cremation Emissions Hurt the Environment and our Air Quality

The process of cremation involves burning the often-embalmed remains with their caskets,
releasing fossil fuels into the air including:
  • Dioxin
  • hydrochloric acid
  • hydrofluoric acid
  • sulfur dioxide
  • carbon dioxide
  • nitrogen oxides
  • carbon monoxide
  • particulate matter
  • mercury
  • hydrogen fluoride
  • hydrogen chloride
  • and other heavy metals into the atmosphere.

Although special filters are designed to reduce mercury emissions during the cremation process, toxic chemicals from the embalming fluid still escape into the earth’s atmosphere.

Please share your thoughts on cremation. 
Will you choose cremation for yourself? Why or why not?
Are you worried about air quality in your city or state?