Ask the Cremation Doctor


The Problem With Pouches
October 22, 2010, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Cremation Technology, Green Cremation

For various reasons, bodies sometime arrive at the crematorium in a plastic pouch. This can be problematic for the operator as the high BTU content in plastic can release a lot of energy, causing excess heat and smoke. Now normally, these pouches are 2–4 mils thick (roughly the thickness of a balloon) and because of the low volume of the material, it usually won’t require any special precautions. The case can be cremated with the same settings as those used for a cardboard container.

Thicker pouches of 4 mils or more, such as those used by the military, are an exception. Heavy pouches cremate at an unusually fast rate due to the high BTU content of the pouch itself. Therefore, it is necessary to cremate a heavy pouch the same way you would a large body, even if the body itself is of an average size. Use the timer settings and operating sequence outlined for large bodies. Following this general rule of thumb will help to keep your retorts running clean and efficiently.

One way to take much of the guesswork out of any case is to equip your retort with intuitive logic controls (IPC). Matthews Cremation Division offers the M-Pyre Advanced Control Panel. All you need to do is provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What kind of container are you using?
  2. What is the weight of the body?
  3. What is the gender?
  4. What is the case number of the day?

Based on these parameters, it will set up your retort for the cleanest and most efficient burn. Additionally, it performs a continuous self-diagnostics and will alert the operator if any corrective action is needed. For further information, please visit our M-Pyre page.

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Radioactive Seeds & Cremation – What’s the Risk?
September 15, 2010, 7:34 pm
Filed under: Safety | Tags: , , ,

Radioactive medicine has been developed and implemented at such a break-neck pace over the past decade that access to information regarding exposure has been slow to receive and difficult to understand.  This has been a major source of concern for many crematory operators as it poses a possible risk to their health and safety.

To compound matters, even if there were concrete answers and solutions, crematory operators rarely get complete information. Details like: Does the body contain seeds? What type of radioactive material was used? How long have the seeds been implanted? and other such details are not known. It is very likely that the average crematory operator is already cremating bodies with these seeds and doesn’t even know it.

Some History
The use of radioactive seed implants is not new. This technique has long held promise as a method of delivering a very high dose of radiation while simultaneously reducing the amount of radiation to the adjacent organs. Early efforts in the 1970s and 80s were limited by a lack of effective technology to place seeds, causing uneven dosage of radiation. The results were suboptimal and this method was largely abandoned.

As the technology for medical imaging improved, efficient and effective means of planning and monitoring the placement of seeds were developed. The ability to accurately plan seed placement and verify seed position led to a renaissance of the implant technique. Another advantage of modern implant techniques is the avoidance of surgery: the seeds are placed by needles under anesthesia in an operating room environment.

What are these seeds?
Radioactive seeds are most commonly used to treat prostate cancer. NewRadioactive seedsapplications are always being developed though so it’s not necessarily safe to assume that just because the case is female, there is nothing to worry about.

The radioactive material is contained within a titanium “seed”. This seed is roughly the size of a grain of rice, but there can be as many as 130 of these seeds in a typical application. Two different radioactive sources are used: Iodine (I-125) or Palladium (Pd-103). The radioactive seeds can be implanted either temporarily or permanently, but the permanent form of implantation is most commonly used.

What can go wrong?
Typical cremation temperature ranges between 1400˚F to 1800˚F. Titanium melts closer to 3000˚F, so there’s little worry about the seed deconstructing in such a manner. The material in the seed boils around 1300˚F however and this combined outer temperature exposure and inner pressure from the boiling contents can cause a rupture.

So are we safe?
This may all sound rather unsettling, but consider the following facts:

  • Both radioisotopes emit very low energy radiation and are primarily absorbed in the treatment area or “target” tissue immediately surrounding the seed, only a few millimeters from their location
  • They gradually lose their radioactivity over a period of time – Iodine seeds over a period of about six months and Palladium seeds over a period of about three months.

According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the main source of potential radiation exposure from the cremation of bodies that contain radionuclides is inhalation of ash particles during the cleaning of the retort. They further go on to say that it is exceedingly unlikely that any crematorium staff would come close to exceeding the annual dose limit for the public.

Regardless, it’s best to assume the worst. Operators should exercise universal precautions. Protective gear including gloves, eye protection and a quality particle mask should be worn at all time when cleaning out the chamber and handling the cremains for processing and packaging. This protection should be more than adequate to minimize exposure to any possible radiation emitting from these seeds.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part V
August 16, 2010, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Oxygen Controls

While not entirely new, oxygen control systems are another available technology that has improved in performance and price. Oxygen control systems measure O2 levels in the secondary chamber’s exhaust gases. Controlling O2 provides benefits on many levels.

First, maintaining proper and steady oxygen levels during the combustion process provide for more effectively cleansing of the emissions. Secondly, optimal O2 levels equal less fuel consumption. Reducing fuel consumption not only reduces money spent, it also further reduces emissions. Thirdly, tighter control of oxygen reduces cremation time. Oxygen control systems are still considered pricey by some crematories but advances in technology and manufacturing have brought it into the realm of possibility.

Beliefs and motivations surrounding global warming and the environment will vary, as will the ability to afford and install the newest and most effective green technology. A common goal we can all embrace though is to learn as much as we can in regards to the industry and the environment, steadily moving towards improving our environmental signature in the communities we serve.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part IV
August 13, 2010, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

New cremation technology is emerging in more affordable designs. This technology can decrease the use of fossil fuels in the combustion system and decrease emission from the cremation process –  both are a bonus to our environment.

Matthews M-Pyre™ (ILC – intuitive logic controls) is an automated control system that doesn’t require any guesswork on the part of the crematory operator. Industry professionals know there are significant variables in the types of cremation containers. Not only do the materials differ widely, but the weight can range from 7 to 170 pounds. The same situation applies to the cases. We receive human remains ranging from 60 to 600 pounds and those same bodies have varying fat tissue percentages from 4% to 40%. All these variables (and more!) impact the cremation process and the decisions operators have to make.

M-Pyre only requires the operator to answer four basic questions (case number of the day, gender, weight and type of case) and the ILC system automatically establishes the settings for the most efficient production cycle. This reduces the opportunity for operator error which in turn will reduce the amount of emissions from the cremation equipment, another win-win for everyone involved.

The M-Pyre system can be added to the most new and existing cremation systems for costs that are well within reason for most North American crematories. For more information, click here.



The “Greening of Cremation” Part III
August 12, 2010, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

Opacity Controls
The last post stressed the importance of controlling the temperature in the secondary chamber. Closely related, another thing that keeps cremation equipment running clean involves monitoring the opacity of the final stack emissions. If everything is running properly and the temperature of the after chamber is on target at 1400˚F (670˚C), there should be no visible smoke coming from the stack. When things get out of whack, particulates increase causing the emissions to “thicken up” and become visible.

Opacity controls have optical sensors that can be positioned in the stack to watch for these excess particulates and give the operator a head’s-up when something is amiss. Some advanced systems can take corrective action adjusting the fuel/air mix and solving the problem sans an operator in a matter of seconds.  

The State of Florida recently adopted the requirement of opacity controls on all new cremation equipment beginning early 2007.  The good news is that these systems can be added to most existing and older designs for reasonable cost to the crematory owners.



The “Greening” of Cremation, Part II
August 11, 2010, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Green Cremation, Technical Issues

To continue the post from August 10th, we were examining how most modern cremation equipment is generally earth-friendly. If you are in possession of old equipment, especially the inline models devoid of a secondary chamber, little can be done to make it run as efficiently as the newer retort-style models with the hot hearth and high retention time. While it is best to upgrade to a newer system, there are a couple other tweaks that one can make. Whether your equipment is old or new, make sure you have adequate temperature controls.

Temperature Control
Adequate and steady control of the secondary chamber temperature of the secondary chamber is critical for the proper operation of cremation equipment. Too low and there will be unwanted emissions from the exhaust stack, too high and these unwanted emissions increase even more. So what is “just right”?

Extensive environmental testing conducted jointly by the USEPA and CANA, the Cremation Association of North America, proved to be invaluable in solving this debate amongst environmental professionals. The graph shown depicts results from over 1300 pages of a USEPA report on crematory environmental operations, shows clearly that 1400˚F (670˚C) is the ideal temperature. Emissions from cremation increased significantly when the secondary chamber temperature was increased from 1400˚F to 1600˚F (870˚C) and then increased again from 1600˚F to 1800˚F.

Temperature control systems, standard on most new cremation systems, can be added or adapted to older and existing cremation equipment for reasonable cost which will eventually pay for it in fuel savings.



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.