Yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch ran a story that the state of Ohio has halted the use of alkaline hydrolysis, a process that uses heat and lye to render body tissues to an environmentally-friendly liquid. The resulting sterile liquid can be safely poured into a body of water, onto land, or even flushed into city sewers. Family members can receive bone fragments, similar to cremated remains.
Funeral director Jeff Edwards said he has performed the hydrolysis process, which he calls “aquamation,” on 19 bodies since January and was about to perform his 20th when state officials declared on Thursday that it “is not an authorized form of disposition of a dead human body.” Ohio law currently only recognizes burial or cremation as an allowable disposition method for a burial permit.
Edwards Funeral Service is currently the only funeral provider in the U.S. that offers alkaline hydrolysis.
Ed Gazvoda is the founder of CycledLife, the company that manufactured the alkaline hydrolysis unit that Jeff Edwards uses. He spoke on a panel about the new technology at the recent International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) convention. These are some of the comments he shared at the event.
“In September of 2010, Jeff Edwards, of Edwards Funeral Home in OH, purchased CycledLife’s first system, and it was installed in January of 2011. Jeff Edwards will forever immortalized in the funeral industry. We are thankful that he choose CycledLife for his system.”
“In most states, as is the case in Ohio, there is no regulation or law that prohibits alkali dispositions. As with any new technology, it can be operated legally, so long as one stays in compliance with the existing laws. The first cars invented operated alongside horses and buggies without any regulations specific to their use. Drivers had to comply with the existing laws intended for travel by horseback. Over time, laws were passed that regulated the use of cars. The funeral industry is facing the same dilemma in attempting to regulate alkaline hydrolysis. Without laws specific to alkaline hydrolysis, it is legal. In time, the legislative branch of government will surely pass laws specific to alkaline hydrolysis.”
“Alkali disposition protects the living from prions, viruses, and bacteria. It consumes less than a tenth the fossil fuel and emits 94% less greenhouse gases compared to cremation. Unlike burial, it does not require the dedication of finite land resources and ongoing consumption of resources. With alkali dispositions, you can return to the earth the neutralized sterile greywater for fertilizer.”
“After 30,000 years, cremation is facing a stiff competitor: alkali disposition. In January, Jeff Edwards put the first nail in cremation’s coffin. Cremation could be facing extinction, not due to regulatory requirements, but due to alkali disposition. To remain competitive, crematories will need to curtail emissions that cause public health problems. In countries around the world regulators are requiring the reduction in mercury emission. The handwriting is on the wall. The last act of 100 million annually deceased will not be cremation.”
“Families ‘get’ alkali disposition. They understand that they can choose to have their loved one’s remains destroyed by fire or returned to nature via water and alkali. Jeff Edwards has had 100% of ‘cremation’ families choose alkali disposition not cremation. The Mayo clinic has experienced close 99.9% of families, over 500 in total, choosing alkali disposition not cremation. The public overwhelming prefers alkali dispositions to cremation.”
“40 years ago who have believed that cremation would have such a large market share? Funeral directors believed cremation would not catch on. They buried their heads in the sand. They considered it a fad. Labeled it as immoral. Wrongly predicted that the public would not pay to be burned. Derided it as was being undignified and a desecration of human remains. Were those that resisted change eventually proved right? The facts speak for themselves.”
“As families have demonstrated a strong willingness to spend their money on alkali dispositions, not cremations, these customers will be firing the cremationists in droves before the cremationists can fire them.”
By the way, Jeff Edwards charges families the same for an alkali disposition as he does for a cremation: $695.
UPDATE March 25:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The first U.S. funeral home to publicly offer a cremation alternative that dissolves bodies with lye and heat has filed a lawsuit alleging Ohio regulators don’t have authority to block it from using the procedure.
The National Funeral Directors Association says Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus is the only U.S. funeral business offering alkaline hydrolysis.
A state board recently determined that’s not an acceptable way to dispose of bodies, and the Ohio Department of Health issued a memo that blocks the funeral process if that method is used.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday says those decisions have kept the funeral home from using the method on a woman’s remains as requested by her husband.
The board did not immediately respond to a message Thursday, and an ODH spokeswoman declined to comment.