Burial and Cremation are the time-honoured ways to dispose of a body, since prehistoric times cultures have been either been burning or burying them (some have been leaving them on the top of mountains for the vultures – but let’s not go there). Well there /is a new kid on the block – Alkaline Hydrolysis body disposal is it less catchy name, Resomation is its trade name and Water Cremation is its media friendly/technically totally inaccurate name. This is a process whereby body are placed in a pressurised vessel (much like a body scanner) then the cadaver is subjected to alkaline hydrolysis, the capsule is fill with water and potassium hydroxide, it is heated slightly (160 °C ), over a period of around six hours the pressure combined with the heat and the chemical effectively breaks the body down into chemical components, most of which are in liquid form which can be disposed of in the normal water treatment cycle (the sewer if you wish). The remainder i.e. the bones will be reduced to ash and returned to the family as in an ordinary cremation. The company which call the process Resomation claim several benefits for this way of disposing of a body:
- A significantly smaller carbon footprint
- Significantly less energy required in the form of electricity and gas
- No airborne mercury emissions
- The sterile liquid effluent is safely returned to the water cycle free from any traces of DNA
I agree the figures are very good there is significantly less carbon dioxide emitted in the process, the second point is kind of an extension of the first. The third point is playing a bit with a sleight of hand, obviously there is no airborne mercury nothing is being burnt, BUT the process does not get rid of the mercury it just ends up in the water rather the air (as to the pros and cons of this my back of a fag packet reckoning is that neither one is clearly better).* The last point is fair enough. In the past I had poo-pooed it as the family would retain nothing and the body would effectively be flush down the loo, and I thought families overall would not be able to get their head around this (I hear you shouting – ‘Well you would say that Ashes Man’ – maybe). However, after listening to a to a talk from Prof Douglas Davies from Durham University it turns out that the process does return the ashes (bone residual) back to the family, I am not sure if this is a tweak to the process, or has always been thus, but I think it is important in winning hearts and minds. So, I stand corrected. Two other thoughts occurred to me. What will the water companies and the regulators say having this new effluent in the system, technically it should to be a massive issue, psychologically I am not sure. Secondly is the issue of the coffin and the body’s attire, I am not sure but presumably the body would have to enter the vessel in the same state as one came into the world i.e. in one’s birthday suit and I don’t know how that would sit with some families.
Because of the low temperature, all metals in the deceased’s remains remain. That’s dental fillings, surgical additions, pacemakers. They stay solid, do not degrade or oxidise, so are just sieved out when the very brittle ‘cremains’ are reduced using ultrasound –* the mercury from fillings does not enter the ecosystem. That last one is important as, unlike the cremation process, pacemakers and batteries don’t explode, so you don’t need anyone to remove them beforehand. Less intrusion. The quantity of ‘ash’ is about 10% more than cremation as it’s a sealed process and nothing escapes through a flue. A stainless-steel basket is used for the loved one inside a reusable wooden cover that resembles the usual casket. It is necessary to cover the deceased with a shroud as, yes, clothes are not recommended. Thus, the undertaker needs almost no consumables, apart from the linen, the basket is cleaned and sterilised during the hydrolysis process and returned to you with the cover. Your company would provide a service and stock a choice of basket covers instead of manufacturing/ assembling caskets. The other major difference is that the remains are frozen rather than embalmed. The embalming fluids would not be allowed into the water system. The only block to the water process at present is local water companies quibbling over how the fluid is best treated at their end. It’s quite a rethink on previous means of saying goodbye to a loved one but mostly technical details with minimum impact on the bereaved. The phenomenally low overheads are going to mean low costs to families and, sensitively managed, a higher percentage for your business. So I stand corrected once more, this is becoming rather embarrassing. I will endeavour to find more as time goes by…