Cremation: Your Last Chance To Avoid Another Pandemic after Covid-19
Or, How To Really Ruin the Environment with your Deathcare Decision
It's been nearly a year since the City of Los Angeles lifted the Clean Air Act in order to cremate the extra 2,700 deceased who died last January during the pandemic. Workers were scrambling to move bodies into refrigerated storage units while awaiting cremation, which the CDC said later was just one of several legal options for Covid-19 deathcare. As it turns out, burial would have been the environmentally-responsible option, and natural or certified-conservation burial an even better choice for our deathcare. There are only a few diseases that require legal handling and possible cremation at a mortuary and these are Tuberculosis, Ebola, HIV, and Cholera. Though the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is highly contagious, the CDC reports that death rates are plummeting across the U.S and worldwide, and therefore we should be able to choose our deathcare plan in good time without sudden measures and the environmental and health costs of mandated cremation.
In fact, cremation has numerous environmental problems, and it will be up to you to plan ahead and document your choice in your own deathcare papers for your family or friends. What you choose has an enormous impact not only on the health of the planet but the health of everyone, for at least a 40 years with mercury's long term effects. The last thing we need is for this pandemic to create yet another pandemic of global mercury poisoning.
Los Angeles county workers and CA national guard move the dead into refrigeration for eventual cremation when the City of Los Angeles lifted the Clean Air Act in order to cremate 2700 dead. (AP photo)
Environmentalists and scientists at the International Academy for Oral Medicine and Toxicology have for four decades been calling on limits and filters for the mercury, but the EPA still hasn't made a federal ruling based on the Minamata Treaty of 2013. One thing that became clear for Los Angeles and many other cities across the nation was the significantly toxic amounts of mercury that were emitted into the local air. In addition to this huge contribution to respiratory diseases across the globe, families were left helpless in coping with the death of a loved one and all the losses that ensued therein including loss of physical access, loss of final farewells, loss of a funeral, and loss of dignity for everyone around.
Cremation involves a cardboard or wooden casket containing the deceased to be placed in a steel oven, (“the retort”) and heated to temperatures from 1400 to 2100 F. At the highest temperature, most of the body is vaporized within about two hours, along with hundreds of pollutants stored within the body. It is commonly thought that crematories have “filters”–adjacent storage chimneys that are supposed to catch and “hold” any mercury. However, studies show that little mercury is actually retained on the chimney walls. Almost all mercury vapors are released and contribute significantly to our local and global mercury problem. Mercury along with a “dirty dozen” pollutants are emitted:
extremely toxic mercury vapors (from dental fillings and organ stores)
the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
dioxins (from wood caskets)
persistent organic pollutants (POPS)
plastics (from body bags and plastic implants)
toxins and carcinogens of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide;
volatile acids such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, both of which form during vaporization of plastics
compounds such as benzenes, furans and acetone are also emitted and react with HCl and HF under combustion conditions to form polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), both of which cause cancer.
“If mercury emissions from crematories are not properly controlled, these facilities could mean a relatively important source of atmospheric pollution. Another relevant aspect of toxic emissions of crematories is the noted lack of general regulations of these emissions. For example, neither the European Union nor the US EPA has established specific recommendations for crematories. In summary, because of cultural and other reasons, in recent years the cremation ratio has considerably increased in many countries, a trend that is expected will continue in the near future. Therefore, we think that crematories must also be among the facilities whose emissions should be specifically regulated and monitored. -- Montse Mari and José L. Domingo, 2009, in ”Toxic Mmissions from Crematories: A Review”
A decade ago in 2012, the EPA produced a report that mercury was indeed a dangerous pollutant in cremation, due primarily to mercury-silver metal dental fillings that vaporize into the air without any adequate filters on crematoria. There is no mention of the mercury that gets stored in our adipose (fatty) tissues, livers and other organs and is vaporized with the rest of a body. Although crematoria are considered to be just 5% of the total global output of mercury compared with other heavily-polluting industries such as the coal industry, mercury in any amount is considered to be unsafe by the scientists of International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology. Amidst the chaos of Covid-19 in September 2020, the FDA finally released a policy after decades of citizen lawsuits stating there are seven groups that should avoid mercury fillings including: children, especially those younger than age 6; pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant (a majority of women?); nursing women and their newborns and infants; those with neurological diseases (such as MS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, etc); people with impaired kidney function; and those with an allergy to mercury (who doesn't have this?) Still, there is no guidance about removing pre-existing dental fillings, their hazardous waste disposal, or why males of any age should choose to have a known neurotoxin placed in their mouths, just inches from their brain?
Meanwhile, the rate of cremation has reached an all-time high, and our body burdens of mercury are increasing every year. Back in 2007, the EPA estimated that crematoria emit 320 pounds of mercury per year, while scientists estimate the real figure could be as high as eleven tons (22,000 pounds) in 2021 given the Pandemic. The United Nations Environmental Programme (2019) estimated that 340 tons (680,000 pounds) of mercury is discharged into the environment globally from dental amalgam placements, 100 tons of which enters the local waste stream.
As part of its report, the EPA Crematorium Working Group found that crematoria are significant sources of mercury, dioxins, and particulate matter. Incineration of bodies, body parts, and infectious and chemotherapeutic wastes collectively represent the second largest known source of mercury and pollution in the US. The World Health Organization and other public health experts consider any level, no matter how low, of emissions of mercury, dioxins, furans, and particulate matter from incineration to be a critical threat to human health. Vulnerable populations such as babies, children, women of childbearing age, and the elderly are particularly at risk from exposure to these toxins, but we are all at risk--every single person on this planet has no escape from ever-increasing mercury pollution. Employees who work in these environments, as well as those populations who live near the source are exposed to higher levels of these pollutants. People of color are particularly at risk in residing closer to crematory industrial units in urban areas. The effects of mercury vapor exposure can last long after the exposure has ended. While typical symptoms and signs, such as tremors and salivation may quickly disappear after exposure has stopped, there are numerous chronic diseases now associated with chronic mercury exposure.
Mercury's neurological effects on patients in Japan from the Minamata mercury disasterare exacerbated by a 99% cremation rate in their country (Photo: Iyaselex)
The Senate Crematoria Study Committee Report of 2012 noted that while there are emissions of other chemicals during the cremation process, mercury is of most concern to communities near crematoriums. But scientists have found that when mercury is vaporized, it becomes a colorless and odorless gas that can travel long distances. While mercury exposure has the potential to cause a variety of health problems, the brain and kidneys are especially vulnerable. According to Dr. Boyd Haley “there is no known lower level for toxicity of mercury,” and scientists clearly agree that mercury toxicity can have “serious consequences on human health.” (from Mercury Contamination from Dental Amalgam, 2019) Haley and scientists from three countries have clearly proven over three decades of studies that mercury is one of the causes of the Alzheimer's epidemic, while the EPA states mercury is associated with heart disease, respiratory diseases, and learning disabilities. Other neurological diseases include MS, Parkinson's and Minamata Disease, an MS-like variety of syndromes that last a lifetime.
Residents in Richmond, California successfully prevented the building of a crematory near their residences and schools. (AP photo)
At the grassroots level, citizens in both Canada and in over 35 U.S. states have set up blocks and ordinances, built a library of research for other states to refer to and assisted in local initiatives to deconstruct or prevent the further building of crematories.
Crematory chimneys have no filters for mercury or the other “dirty dozen” pollutants (Indychannel.com photo)
One twenty year old study of even the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) found that “filtering crematorium fumes has little effect on the toxins released.” Because the mercury molecule is so tiny (2 microns) it requires special and costly filters, such as those paid for by the coal industry to filter out mercury in coal-burning plants. Most mercury from crematoria is released into the air, though small amounts may collect on the walls of the oven and chimney creating a hazardous waste site inside. Soil surveys have shown that while there is often an elevation of mercury in the topsoils near crematoria, most (over 99%) of the mercury emitted to the air does not settle to the soil in the nearby area, but enters the global airstream. Mercury levels in “ashes” (bone fragments of the deceased) have been rarely tested, and have been shown to be minimal in those tests; what is of concern in crematory ashes is the presence of lead which has its own toxicity problems. One wonders what the blood and tissue (brain) levels of air-borne mercury is in crematory industry workers who breathe in mercury fumes every day while working around the vapors and ovens.
Crematory workers during the Covid pandemic have been subject to increased
levels of mercury vapors emitted in cremations due to double the cremation numbers.
(Photo: news minute.com)
With cremation reaching an all-time high of nearly 50-81% in many U.S. states, the EPA should require all crematoria to filter pollutants including mercury, or shut down, as has been the requirement in Sweden. Further building of crematoria should be halted while environmentally-responsible alternatives for our deceased and environment are put first. The ancient practice of natural burial grounds and cemeteries is now legal in all 50 states, allowing for the natural return of our bodies to the earth. The Green Burial Council International now has three environmentally-responsible burial certifications, with the Conservation burial category being the best practice for the earth.
Certified natural and conservation burials are the best deathcare plan for the earth
and for our health. (Photo: Ramsey Creek Preserve, South Carolina)
A family and community bury a loved one at the Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in Florida (Photo: PCCC)
In the end, cremation does not allow for the necessary time essential for the much-needed family rites of passage and grief process that is made “real” for people with burial. With cremation, there is only a short amount of scheduled time to “say goodbye” to a loved one’s body. Numerous Youtube videos reveal the many limitations for families in a crematory setting. The industrial environment of steel ovens has little ambiance for the grieving person and their family. Although some families have a memorial after cremation there is often still a lingering feeling of incompletion even in the “memorial room” of an upscale crematory. A grief that is complicated from a pandemic, trauma, sudden loss, accident or suicide becomes even more difficult when the body is boxed away and cremated before a person can fully accept a death and come to terms with the shock, numbness and other feelings specific to these types of loss.
With certified natural burials people of all ages and walks of life find a natural celebration and memorial to a loved one. (Photo: NationalTrust.org)
We can't wait for the EPA or the crematory industry to solve the mercury epidemic. By getting informed, we can take immediate personal and local actions to avoid cremation until filters are implemented and document our choice for an environmentally healthy deathcare plan. Check out the Advance After-Death Care Directive at https://greenburialsanctuary.com/planning-your-green-burial/ and choices at
You never know when you or your family will need to refer to your deathcare document, and every adult over age 18 now has the legal right to record their wishes.
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Evidence of Harm, a documentary by Prof. Emeritus Boyd Haley, America's mercury expert and former NIH researcher. For an excellent discussion of the link between mercury vapors in the environment and Alzheimer’s Disease (the 3rd largest cause of death in the US), watch the documentary of Dr Haley’s 25 year NIH career linking mercury toxicity with over 75 characteristic enzyme changes, lesions, and other changes found in Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, MS, ALS, etc.
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End note: Mercury pollution is a huge problem for all deathcare practices that don't sequester or bury it. Currently, returning mercury to the earth in a certified conserved cemetery is the best solution in sequestration. There are no independent studies done to assess the handling of dental mercury and other pollutants in any deathcare, but this is especially true for "human composting" which only scatters mercury fillings on "conserved" land. It is also true for “Water Cremation” or Alkaline Hydrolysis, purported in the funeral industry as the latest “green” alternative to conventional Cremation. In the literature, Alkaline Hydrolysis does not address the responsible handling of mercury, which is extremely toxic to workers and the environment. With AK, all waste products besides bone are washed down the drain, including all liquified mercury. Also, sodium hydroxide, or lye, which AH uses for dissolution of the body, is manufactured with significant amounts of mercury. According to Dr. Renee Dufault, PhD, former FDA investigator, this amount of mercury is significant. Ever increasing and significantly toxic mercury levels are found in our drinking water, wastewater systems, local and global airstream, and soils.