Letter to Editor AJC

Dear Editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

In a recent article published July 11, 2015 titled “At Issue: Is crematorium really a health hazard or just a nuisance?” Your newspaper requested input from the community. I have personally been involved in researching the impacts of a crematory operating near residential areas for the past 5 years. I began this research after my own community was faced with a Special Use Permit (SUP) to add a crematory to a funeral home that sits surrounded by 17 densely populated subdivisions. It wasn’t easy but we managed to stop this SUP. When I began to organize the neighbors to object to this permit request, there wasn’t a lot of good information readily available in one location, so I set about compiling everything I could find on the subject. That research was then made public on a website: http://www.no2crematory.wordpress.com

After our fight was won, I left the website up because I really felt strongly that NO community should be faced with the daunting task of having to find the research needed to successfully oppose a crematory near homes and schools. Shortly following this the requests began to come in for help from communities around the country. We formed a grassroots organization “Community Awareness Network” and to date, we have assisted 66 communities in 36 states. Eleven of those are in Georgia, with the group in Woodstock/Towne Lake being the most recent to come on board.

Crematories emissions contain a vast amount of toxic substances which are vaporized during the cremation process. These include mercury from amalgam fillings, and possibly of greater concern, dioxins (known carcinogens) and furans (possible carcinogens) which are a product of combustion. In addition to these pollutants there are a number of other heavy metal vapors that are emitted, a short list of these includes cadmium, chromium, lead and nickel. Also of note are emissions of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide. Lesser concerns include slightly more benign emissions of smoke, odor, and particulate matter. In addition, I have concerns over the potential fire hazards that crematories pose, as they have a well-documented history of catching on fire and on occasion burn the building they are contained within to the ground.
Probably the biggest red flag there is when it comes to crematory operations is the complete LACK of regulations on crematory emissions. This is not because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers crematory emissions to be low. In fact, the EPA had planned to regulated mercury emissions from crematories under the Clean Air Act (CAA) – they had crematories listed under the Other Solid Waste Incinerator (OSWI) category. After intense lobbying on the part of the funeral industry, crematories were removed from the OSWI category, with the explanation given that “human bodies are not considered solid waste” and with a footnote that EPA can choose to regulate in the future under another provision of the CAA.

Crematories fit very well the definition of a nuisance.
They are BOTH a nuisance AND a threat to the public health. Georgia State Law regarding nuisances defines a nuisance as:

O.C.G.A. § 41-1-1 … anything that causes hurt, inconvenience, or damage to another and the fact that the act done may otherwise be lawful shall not keep it from being a nuisance.

A public nuisance is:
§ 41-1-2 …one which damages all persons who come within the sphere of its operation, though it may vary in its effects on individuals.

§ 41-2-1 …any nuisance which tends to the immediate annoyance of the public in general, is manifestly injurious to the public health or safety, … (truncated)

The evidence that crematories harm the health of residents living, attending school/daycare and working nearby is staggering. According to a review of studies published in the Scientific Journal Environment International “Toxic Emissions from Crematories: A review” the following points can be made:
a. Crematories have been identified as sources of various environmental pollutants, being polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs), and mercury those raising most concern.
b. The pollutants emitted by the combustion of organic matter with presence of other trace elements are: combustion gases (NOx, CO, SO2, PM….), heavy metals, and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs), among other persistent organic pollutants. Heavy metals and PCDD/Fs, stand out because of their toxicity and capacity for bio-accumulation, which means potential risks for human health. Because of their toxicological properties, together with their persistence capacity, PCDD/Fs were listed by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants of 2001 as one of the “dirty dozen” pollutants whose levels should be significantly reduced.
c. As a result of the US Cremation Association’s meeting with the US EPA in November 1991, it became known that the original regulations proposed for crematories were based on no actual test data. Dental amalgams are unstable at cremation temperatures (650–700 °C) … the free mercury metal is highly volatile.
d. Concluded that there was an increased risk of lethal congenital anomaly (specifically spina bifida and heart defects) in relation to proximity to incinerators, and an increased risk of stillbirth and anencephalus (brain injury) in relation to proximity to crematoriums.
See this study here:

Crematories also have a negative impact on property values, directly related to the emissions. A study done in collaboration between Penn State University and the University of Wyoming, found a direct correlation between the operation of a new crematory and a dramatic decrease in property value based on actual home sales. That study also documented levels of pollution far exceeding the remediation goals set by the state air quality standards and the EPA.
See the study here:

What has been done so far in Georgia to address these concerns? I was personally involved in the 2012 State Senate Study Committee on Crematoria. You can access that study’s report here:

So far all we have been able to accomplish is that the Study Committee requested action on the part of the Environmental Protection Department, (to do further study on the emissions) the State Funeral Board (to set stricter rules) and the Funeral Industry (to employ best practices). To my knowledge, no actions have been taken by any of these parties to comply with these requests.

It is my earnest opinion that crematories need to be regulated. I am engaged in seeking regulations at the federal level, but there is a long road ahead of us to get any kind of changes to the laws governing the funeral industry, which is by all estimates very well connected politically and has a very powerful lobby. Without regulations we need to have the protection of comprehensive crematory law reform in this state, otherwise the problem will continue to come up whenever a funeral director decides he wants to expand his business to include cremation services.
After the extensive and exhaustive research on this matter, I believe a safe distance is a minimum of one half mile from residential areas or schools. 2000 feet is a good start, it is almost a half mile. However, I think this is going to be one long and ugly fight to get there. It will make it almost impossible to open a new crematory, which is just fine with me. The industry will fight back hard against this change, because they know it will essentially end the rush to add crematories to funeral homes.

Which brings me to the matter of the current laws as they are written. It is my view that the funeral industry, and funeral directors/funeral home owners are engaging in what amounts to anti-trust violation, assisted by the verbiage of the GA Code. Crematories have traditionally been competition for funeral homes and only recently began being considered as “accessories” to funeral homes. Right now the GA Code basically prevents any new stand- alone crematories from opening up within 1000 feet of a residence. The law does not prevent a crematory from operating within 1000 feet if it is attached to a funeral home. It is my observation that this ONLY and UNFAIRLY benefits the funeral home owner by simultaneously cutting out his competitors and enabling him to capture the other services he provides: Embalming, viewing, funeral services, etc. – where the majority of people who choose cremation would forgo those services and instead bypass the entire “funeral home” experience. People who want to choose direct cremation are disadvantaged by having to deal directly with a funeral home in the traditional sense.

So, as my letter hopefully illustrates, there is a great need to reform the Georgia Law regarding crematories. I applaud Senator Brandon Beach for being the first Republican lawmaker to recognize this issue and take action. It is the great hope of many in my organization that he will succeed.
Tia Severino
Founder, Community Awareness Network


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s