Charbonneau’s Quest for Alkaline Hydrolysis Approval in Ontario: A Timeline

Funeral Industry News December 15, 2019
Charbonneau BAO Low-Temp Alkaline Hydrolysis

Charbonneau’s Quest for Alkaline Hydrolysis Approval in Ontario: A Timeline

Ontario Funeral Director Trevor Charbonneau may be known for a lot of things, but being a quitter is definitely not one of them. Since 2017 Charbonneau has fought battle after battle in a veritable war with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) to bring the option of cremation by low-temperature alkaline hydrolysis to Ontario families. 

So why has this become a two- (going on three-) year quest? That’s a great question, and one that Charbonneau still doesn’t have a definitive answer to, despite his repeated attempts. This timeline of Charbonneau’s fascinating and frustrating journey may shed some light. 

As you follow this long, strange trip, keep in mind that alkaline hydrolysis has been in use in the United States since the 1990s. Both low-temperature and high-temperature machines are in use in 20 U.S. states, Australia, Mexico, and three Canadian provinces.

2017: A Hopeful Beginning

As of January 2017: 3 funeral homes in Ontario are actively offering alkaline hydrolysis (AH) to residents. At the time, the BAO has no policies, procedures, regulations, or guidelines in place for bio-cremation.

September 2017: Trevor Charbonneau requests a license from the BAO to operate an AH machine.

September 2017: Trevor Charbonneau asks his local Planning and Development Committee to amend their by-laws to permit installation and usage of alkaline hydrolysis equipment within his funeral home. The zoning change was necessary to add the designation of “crematorium” to the facility’s existing designation as a funeral home. 

October 23, 2017: After considering input from neighbors and hearing no complaints from the area’s sewer system and water works authority, the Planning and Development Committee recommended amendment of the by-law to allow Newcastle Funeral Home to install and begin using alkaline hydrolysis equipment. 

November 1, 2017: The Durham Region newspaper reports Charbonneau’s request was approved on October 30 and Newcastle Funeral Home will begin offering bio-cremation as soon as the equipment is installed.

November 2017: Trevor Charbonneau receives licensure to operate a crematorium by AH from the BAO at Newcastle Funeral Home in Newcastle, Ontario.

December 2017: Charbonneau installs and begins operating low-temperature alkaline hydrolysis equipment and invites the BAO to visit Newcastle Funeral Home; however, they do not appear.

2018: The BAO Battle Begins

January 24, 2018: The BAO suspends the cremation license of AquaGreen Disposition, an alkaline hydrolysis crematorium in Smiths Falls, Ontario, “after an investigation revealed that the bio-cremations were not being done with a licensed funeral director carrying a Class 1 license,” per Smiths Falls Record News. AquaGreen’s owners tells the News that “when he began practicing bio-cremations there wasn’t a regulation requiring a funeral director to carry out the process. Hilton said that since the rules changed after he was practicing bio-cremations, he thought he would be grandfathered in.” 

February 8, 2018: AquaGreen’s owner appeals the BAO’s decision with the License Appeal Tribunal.

February 14, 2018:  Smith posts a statement on the BAO website that says “the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act of 2002 (FBCSA) doesn’t address alkaline hydrolysis specifically, but provision of the FBCSA dealing with crematoriums, cremation and crematorium services do apply, with necessary modifications, to establishments that provide alternative processes (such as alkaline hydrolysis). To properly achieve its public interest objectives under the FBCSA, it is necessary for the BAO to understand fully what modifications may be necessary to safeguard public health, the environment, safety, respectful handling of human remains and consumer protection with respect to the alkaline hydrolysis process. Accordingly, the BAO is undertaking a comprehensive study and assessment of these factors and issues. […] The study may result in the creation of standards or guidelines that could affect various aspects of alkaline hydrolysis disposition in Ontario […].” The study has still yet to be released by the BAO.

February 15, 2018: The owner of AquaGreen Disposition in Smiths Falls withdraws his appeal to the BAO and closes the doors to his business. He tells the Record News, “that he finds it curious that a regulator allowed him ‘in the game’ with this new technology, but has only now launched a study to better understand the process and how to regulate the alkaline hydrolysis process.

May 2, 2018: The BAO posts the following on its website: “On February 14, 2018, the Registrar, Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act 2002 (FBCSA), issued a Notice to the Profession regarding a study and assessment of the alkaline hydrolysis process. The study is ongoing. Until further notice, pending the outcome of the study, licensees are prohibited from selling or offering to sell, in advance of need, alkaline hydrolysis services. This restriction does not include at-need sales.”

June 2018: BAO staff perform an unannounced inspection of Newcastle Funeral Home. Despite Charbonneau’s requests as to what exactly the representatives were inspecting and their findings, they offer no comment or feedback.

June 22, 2018: The BAO issues an immediate suspension and a proposal to revoke Newcastle’s crematorium operator license. BAO registrar Carey Smith tells the Durham Region on June 26, “There were some compliance violations noted in the inspection.” This is despite the fact that there are no bio-cremation compliance guidelines in place. Smith tells the newspaper that during an inspection the inspectors would not be testing the wastewater but would consider potential pathogens, the operation of the device, the storage of chemicals, the safety of the process, and safety to the owner and the public. “A lot of it is because it’s new,” Smith said. 

July 2018: Charbonneau appeals the BAO’s decision with the License Appeal Tribunal and spends 13 days in court explaining the bio-cremation process. While adjudicators consider Charbonneau’s and the BAO’s testimonies, Newcastle’s crematorium license remains suspended and the AH equipment lies dormant.

July 25, 2018: A Public Health Ontario report, requested by Ontario’s Ministry of Public Health and Long-Term Care to study LT AH, concludes “there’s no scientific evidence to establish that the new cremation process destroys human prions.” BAO registar Smith tells the Ottawa Citizen: “We have concerns that it does not effectively kill prions — that’s the issue.” Smith also tells the Citizen that “he believes liquid cremations should be the subject of legislation — not just new administrative procedures — since it raises unique ethical issues. ‘What about the liquid human remains? That’s just going down the drain,’ Smith said. […] We have to be assured that everyone is OK with it going into the wastewater system. ”

July 2018: At a cost of $25,000, Charbonneau personally contracts Dr. Gerald A. Denys, senior microbiology researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, to perform an independent study to validate the low-temperature (LT) alkaline hydrolysis specific to the Bio-Response Solutions, Inc. Human-28 LT system which is installed at Newcastle. The report concludes the “LT AH process validated destruction of prion-sized particles.” 

September 2018: Denys’ study of LT AH proving there is no danger of prion-sized particles being released is published in peer-reviewed scientific journal Applied Biosafety, the journal of the Association for Biosafety and Biosecurity.

2019: The Tide Begins to Turn

May 2019: Seven months after the hearing concluded, the License Appeal Tribunal (LAT) renders a decision in favor of Charbonneau and Newcastle Funeral Home. 

June 2019: The BAO appeals the tribunal’s decision along with a stay motion compelling Newcastle to remain unoperational while the appeal is pending.

October 23, 2019: The BAO’s appeal is once again dismissed by the Ontario Divisional Court, and Newcastle resumes bio-cremation services. 

October 25, 2019: The BAO files a leave motion asking the court for the opportunity for a final appeal of the LAT decision and the Divisional Court decision effectively claiming that both LAT and Divisional Court made an error in law.

December 17, 2019: The BAO files another stay motion asking the court to shut down the AH machine while the final appeal is being decided.

So there you have it, folks. As of this writing, Newcastle Funeral Home is once again providing low-temperature alkaline hydrolysis cremation services — for now. The process has been extremely well-received by the public, despite the funeral home’s 15-month BAO-imposed hiatus.

What we’ve provided are the basic facts as reported. However, unanswered questions remain:

  • What’s the status of the BAO’s study of the safety of LT AH which was supposed to dictate new regulations?
  • Have Ontario’s bereavement authority officials consulted with the other two provinces which long ago approved LT AH to specifically evaluate its actual, real-life long-term effects?
  • Why was wastewater of no concern to the BAO in June 2018, but of utmost concern in July 2019?
  • Has the Public Health Ontario study been peer-reviewed like the study Charbonneau sponsored? Why did these two reports result in opposite conclusions?

In our follow-up article, we’ll talk with Trevor Charbonneau and share recent responses to his plight from other industry leaders. Trust us — there’s much more to this story.