Kansas Set to Legalize Bio-Cremation

June 7, 2011
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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas funeral industry regulators are set to setting rules for using a new form of cremation, by dissolving bodies in lye, that will become legal in the state July 1. But few expect the practice to become widely used anytime soon.

Kansas legislators in 2010 passed a law that broadens the definition of cremation and makes the state just the seventh in the nation to allow the practice formally called alkaline hydrolysis, said Mack Smith, executive secretary of the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts

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Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as bio cremation, is essentially a flameless cremation process that uses combination of heat, pressure and a sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide solution to reduce human remains to a dry bone residue and a slightly alkaline coffee-colored liquid mix of nutrients, sugars and protein parts that is usually discarded

Medical researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the University of Florida already use the process for human cadavers. Researchers at other universities have used it for decades on animal carcasses too. Proponents say the process is more ecologically friendly than traditional cremation by fire because it eliminates emissions of carbon dioxide and of potentially noxious fumes such as mercury from dental fillings. Opponents voice concern about the social implications of the process and worry, despite strict environmental standards, whether it is truly safe.

Kansas regulators and the state’s funeral directors asked the state legislators last year for policy guidance on the question, so that the industry will have proper guidelines to follow if the practice becomes wider spread.

In proposed regulations that Mortuary Arts regulators will begin discussing July 14, “we want to assure that all human remains are treated properly as human remains,” Smith said.

No funeral director in Kansas has yet applied to open a hydrolysis cremation unit, he said. So far, Ohio is the only state in the U.S. where the process has been used. That state’s definition of cremation remains narrower than Kansas’ however, and regulators there consequently have questioned whether it is legal. Ohio funeral directors have responded with a lawsuit that both sides hope will clarify the question. Six other states have approved broader definitions such as Kansas’; legislators in 14 others are contemplating similar changes.

Few Kansas funeral directors seem likely to apply to open the units in the foreseeable future unless demand for the service becomes far stronger, said Pam Smith, executive director of the Kansas Funeral Directors Association.

“For one thing, the equipment you need is pretty expensive,” Smith said.

Costs structures for the potentially emerging alternative remain sketchy. Traditional cremation costs vary widely. but often range between $1,000 and $4,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Costs for traditional funerals also vary but often range from $6,000 upward, according to association figures.

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