Florida funeral home offers eco-friendly cremations

Tue Oct 11, 2011 12:15pm EDT
 
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By Ben Gruber

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida funeral home is offering a new alternative to traditional cremations and burials, selling what it bills as an environmentally friendly chemical process to dispose of dead bodies.

This month, the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, Florida, became the first in the world to perform a commercial "bio-cremation," using a chemical reaction instead of fire to dissolve cadavers.

The process involves pressurized water, potassium hydroxide and electric heat to generate an accelerated chemical reaction similar to what occurs to bodies when they are buried in the ground.

"We achieve what nature achieves in hours rather than months or years," said Sandy Sullivan, a Scottish-born biochemist who developed the new technique and is helping the funeral home to use the process.

Under the new method, bodies are placed in a steel machine resembling an oversized washing machine called the Resomator. The bodies are then immersed in a chemical bath and the remains are broken down by a process known as alkaline hydrolysis using water at high temperatures.

The solution contains alkali, a substance found in cosmetics and liquid soaps. The whole process lasts about three to four hours, slightly longer than heat cremations.

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY

But similar to traditional cremations, what is left are bones and ash, which are placed in an urn and given to family members. The used chemical solution is then poured down a drain, said John McQueen, the funeral home president.   Continued...