New Flameless Cremation Process Could Be Legalized In Illinois

CHICAGO (CBS) — For 20,000 years, people have been using fire to cremate their loved ones. Now, for the first time, there’s a new way to do cremations and, if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a measure approved by the legislature, it could be available in Illinois by march.

But, as CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, some say it should be investigated first.

It’s a way to cremate human bodies without flames.

Illinois Funeral Directors Association President John Humes III said, “I think alkaline hydrolysis is the first major innovation in funeral service in probably the last 100 years.”

It’s a flameless process that’s been available commercially for just months. It achieves the same result as fire with just water and chemicals, but its backers say what’s not the same is the amount of pollution.

Steve Schaal, President of Matthews Cremation North America, said, “It’s better for the environment, because we are eliminating the greenhouse gases that are associated with traditional flame cremation. And we’re able to reduce the carbon output by over 75 percent.”

That’s because alkaline hydrolysis creates no smoke. It does, however, generate more than 100 gallons of waste water.

“Our concern is the byproduct. What chemicals are in it and how do they interact with the normal system of water treatment that exists now?” Humes said. He said it’s possible human remains could be in any water byproduct from the new cremation process.

Humes said state environmental regulators should look at the process to make sure it’s greener than traditional cremation.

Under the alkaline hydrolysis procedure, a body would be placed on a tray and pushed into a chamber filled with liquid, which would be heated to 300 degrees. After about four hours, all the soft tissue would be liquefied.

The skeleton would remain, as in a typical cremation, and would be similarly pulverized to ash.

“If a family were to choose alkaline hydrolysis or cremation, they would go home with an urn holding their loved one’s remains,” said funeral home owner Steve Dawson.

He said he’s thinking about using the technology if it becomes legal in Illinois, but is concerned about the possible stigma.

If the governor signs the measure, Illinois will become the eighth state to legalize alkaline hydrolysis. Ohio has put the procedures on hold.

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka released a statement saying her office will study the process to see if any additional regulation is necessary.

More from Mike Puccinelli
  • JeanSC

    I wish people would stop using the word “chemicals” in this context, because it sounds like just an ignorant way to talk about chemical compounds. In this story, it would be pure substances which are compounds of 2 or more elements, resulting as the story says in an alkali. Water is a chemical compound with a neutral pH. Alkalis have a pH of over 7. This story reminds me of, I think, a crime drama which included disposal of the victim in lye, but no heating was used. I also learned from a websearch that the bony remains after cremation really aren’t “ash” in the strict definition of mineral solids left after combustion. The word is used because of the appearance. So the bones are just ground up into powder. The quantity of wastewater certainly is a concern.

  • wrg

    Sounds disgusting.

  • Coming to Illinois, “The First Major Advancement in Funeral Services in Over 100 Years.” |

    […] The new technology that is only months old creates controversy, even though it does away with the CO2 emissions of standard cremation. Continue reading here. […]

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