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New Flameless Cremation Process Could Be Legalized In Illinois

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Animated demonstration of alkaline hydrolysis, a flameless cremation process under review by the governor's office. (Photo Courtesy: Matthews Cremation North America)

Animated demonstration of alkaline hydrolysis, a flameless cremation process under review by the governor’s office. (Photo Courtesy: Matthews Cremation North America)

Mike Puccinelli Mike Puccinelli
Mike Puccinelli serves as a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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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.

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