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How dangerous is embalming?
Actually, the main danger is to embalmers, who are at risk for certain types of cancer and other diseases. Likewise, there’s a certain risk inherent simply in manufacturing and transporting a toxic chemical. But by the time a body is in the ground, the formaldehyde in the embalming fluid has broken down into carbon, oxygen, and water—or so we understand it!
True, there are still wells and streams near old cemeteries being polluted by the arsenic that, many years ago, was used to embalm the dead. But we know of no research that shows current danger.
Isn’t embalming a help in preventing the spread of disease?
Actually, most disease organisms die with the body, or soon after death. Decay bacteria take over next—regardless if the body is embalmed or not. Embalming only slows it down for the short haul.
Tell me more about the sorts of casket we may use.
We prefer that caskets be simply constructed of local, sustainably harvested lumber, and you may make your own. We don’t allow coffins made from imported rainforest lumber. Alternatively, people may be legally interred in a shroud or in a cardboard container. A funeral director can provide these. You may sew or weave a shroud, and a favorite quilt or blanket is fine, too—but ask your funeral director about it ahead of time. See coffins, shrouds, and stones for more information.
No bigger than 84"l, 28"w, 23"h. - put it on casket, shroud page
We do not permit concrete or steel vaults, or bronze or steel caskets or casket liners. Biodegradable is the watchword here.
What’s the ecological cost of contemporary burial?
Each year in the U.S.’s 22,500 cemeteries we bury roughly:
- 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
- 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
- 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
- 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
- 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
- 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods (much tropical; caskets)
Emissions and pesticide use:
Though we haven’t found good figures for emissions (from lawn mowing, trimming, etc.) or synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use, it’s got to be mega-tons each year. (Depending on the type of mower used, cutting grass for one hour emits as much pollution as driving a car from 100 to 650 miles.)
The average cemetery buries 1,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 97.5 tons of steel, 2,028 tons of concrete, and 56,250 board feet of high quality wood in just one acre of green.
The ecological cost of cremation:
Each cremation releases between .8 and 5.9 grams of mercury as bodies are burned. This amounts to somewhere between 1,000 and 7,800 pounds of mercury each year. Seventy-five percent goes into the air and the rest settles into the ground and water.
Cremation removes the body from the cycle of nature, keeping it from nourishing new life. We prefer earth burial.
You could drive about 4,800 miles on the energy equivalent of the energy used to cremate someone—and to the moon and back 83 times on the energy from all cremations in one year in the U.S.
Cremations of Tompkins County residents during the past year released between 1.2 and 6.8 pounds of mercury into the atmosphere. This estimate is based on a 20% statewide cremation rate—though the county’s rate is probably higher.
Your body is a natural resource, rich with life-sustaining nutrients. Your choice for natural burial is a choice for natural renewal and growth—a way to give back to the earth that sustains us all.