Ask the Cremation Doctor


The “Greening” of Cremation in North America Pt. I
August 10, 2010, 5:33 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Global warming has been all the rage for quite a few years now, so if worries about the slow and steady increase in global temperature have not yet reached your ears, you may want to consider buying a radio or at least a subscription to a good newspaper. This phenomenon has been linked by many experts to the melting of the polar ice-caps, future extinction of animals and the loss of viable farming for the poorest of the poor.

Getting the word out on this potential threat and delivering calls to action have been through quite an eclectic group that one would not normally expect; politicians and preachers, environmentalists and economists, celebrities and CEOs, scientists and school kids.

The experts and scientists line up on opposing sides of this issue, filled with passion and armed with data. One side claims global warming is man-made, while the other assures it is a natural cycles of the earth as old as time itself. When you strip away the politics and posturing, all we are really talking about is making sure we keep the earth in good shape for future generations.

So what does this have to do with cremation? Well when you burn something, especially something like a carbon-based former life form that can contain chemicals, metals from fillings, artificial joints and other prosthetics, you can bet there will be concern about the final byproducts of its combustion.

Fortunately, North American cremation practices have long been considered environmentally friendly compared to other places around the world. This is due largely in part to the fact that most funeral homes are located in more densely populated city centers. With pressures to reduce smoke and odor to an absolute minimum, our drive to be good neighbors also made us good stewards of the environment as well.

Extensive testing by state, federal and independent agencies has shown time and time again that crematories operate well within the current environmental guidelines. United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) testing resulted in human and animal cremation equipment being eliminated from the list of industries that were covered by the new federal environmental regulations in 2005.

That’s great news, so the burning question now becomes “Should we do more?” Here at Matthews Cremation Division – our answer is a resounding “Yes!” So let’s discuss…

Retention Time
As most industry professionals know, residence (aka retention) time is the amount of time emissions from a cremation are held in the secondary (after chamber) of the cremation equipment. This is done to burn off as much pollutants and particles as possible before the emissions are released into the atmosphere. Suffice to say – the longer the retention time, the better the cleansing. Many states require cremation equipment to retain these gases ½ to 1 second. For most cases, this time is more than adequate.

Most new “hot hearth” cremation equipment designs can provide retention times up to 2 seconds or greater.  Longer retention time not only makes the emissions cleaner, but is also helpful when cremating overweight cases and when tasking cremation equipment to handle multiple cremations in a single day.

If you can’t obtain that kind of retention time because your equipment is obsolete, it’s going to be difficult at best to change anything.  Inline cremators (non-hot hearth) are notorious for high emissions as well as high fuel consumption. At this point, replacing your equipment is truly is your best option. 

Getting an entirely new cremator is going to take some time and money, however there are a few things you can do while you are getting your ducks in a row. Temperature control of the secondary chamber and opacity controls also aid in reducing emissions and they can be easily added to old equipment to help improve efficiencies to a degree. Stay tuned for the next installment to learn more.

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