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Green Burial Aims To Change Death Care Industry

Apr 11, 2016 03:30 AM EDT

Death is inevitable. Billions of people walking on the face of the planet right now will eventually go back to Earth upon death. Usually, people resort to cremation or the traditional burial practices to lay the body to its final resting place.

However, studies show that these practices are harmful to the environment. This is why environmentalists recommend "green burial" practices to lessen our environmental impact, even to our death.

In a study by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme, or NICNAS, in Australia, they discovered that embalmers are exposed to health hazards caused by formaldehyde used in embalming, which is also found to be carcinogenic.

According to the same report, formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative and disinfectant, is an integral chemical during the embalming process. "Formaldehyde is present as a dissolved gas in the water-based solution called formalin, in concentrations from 37% to 54%," it said.

Based on their findings, it is not healthy for both the embalmers and the environment to continue using formalin and formaldehyde. Their study states the following important points:

1. Formaldehyde is toxic by inhalation, skin contact, and by swallowing.

2. During embalming, formaldehyde levels can reach up to four parts per million (ppm). Humans start experiencing discomfort at 0.5 ppm.

3. Breathing formaldehyde vapor can result in burning, stinging or itching sensation, sore throat, watery eyes, blocked sinuses, runny nose and sneezing.

4. Skin contact can cause skin rashes and allergic skin reactions. Splashes into the eyes can cause irritation, corrosion of the cornea and possibly blindness.

5. Formaldehyde has been shown to cause nasal cancers in animals at levels not found in the majority of workplaces.

6. Formaldehyde is a highly reactive, flammable gas and can form explosive mixtures in air.

Yet instead of simply taking extra precautions with a toxic substance, there is another alternative called green burial or natural burial, which has minimal environmental impact.

This type of burial uses biodegradable and non-toxic materials in the caskets, urns and shrouds.

Green burial is simple: it performs the same embalming process but uses formaldehyde-free embalming materials. Aside from toxic chemicals, burials will require caskets, cement and steel.

Some of these materials will not decompose and will rot underneath the Earth. Green burial will replace these with biodegradable alternatives so that it will decompose together with the body and won't add to the wastes underneath the earth's surface.

The Green Burial Council started in North America. Their advocacy is to change the death care industry by embracing a new burial technique which is not harmful to anyone. "We hope to make 'green' or 'natural' burial the new standard within the industry," they said.

Aside from being environment-friendly, Green burial is economical, too. In an interview with TechInsider, Kate Kalanick, their executive director, said, "Americans are funny about feeling like they own a 4-by-8 plot for eternity".

Green burial is something everyone should consider. We don't want to be a burden the environment even after we die.

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