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People! Listen to me! Embalming is an environmental problem! Nobody wants to think about what happens to our bodies after death. I really get that. But if you really want to get creeped out, think about those harmful chemicals leaching into your water. That's right, dear friends...if you want to gag, read the article "Drinking Grandma and yes, the facts in the article are exactly as disgusting as you might imagine.

I'm on this rant because I went with a friend today to make arrangements for her grandmother today and that poor funeral director probably is praying right now that I won't be at the funeral for fear that I'll get up on my soap box against embalming. He tried to impress me (read: shut me up) by telling me that embalming fluids of today are a big improvement over the old arsenic based embalming fluids that were used until the early 1900s when they were eliminated not only because of harmful health effects (Knoefes & McGee, 2002) but because of their interference in investigations of cases where arsenic poisoning was suspected (Iserson, 1994). We probably overcame all the benefits of that decision by turning to the use of treated wood but that's another issue.

Just to prove that ALL embalming is an environmental problem, studies performed in
New York and Iowa found elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater "downstream" of late-19th-century cemeteries. These same studies indicated that there were elevated levels of copper, zinc, and lead elements associated with the materials used to make caskets back in the day (Knoefes & McGee, 2002).

Despite these well-documented findings, embalming just to have delayed and open-casket funerals continues to be commonplace in America. The rather poor excuse that the funeral director (that I was browbeating according to my friend) cited for this practice is that in this day of longevity people don't come in contact with death in the same way as in the pre-embalming days when the women of the house were responsible for "laying out" the deceased and people would rather that our dead loved ones be more attractive so that our last memories of them would not be tainted with the harsh realities of death. To that, I say HOGWASH!

If you want to talk harsh realities, talk about embalming fluids in your drinking water and then get back to me on wanting people to look good after they pass on to the great beyond.

Embalming is an environmental problem because the primary ingredient in most modern embalming fluids is formaldehyde and findings suggest that formaldehyde is harmful to public health and probably not a good thing to be pouring into our environment. Here's some math on how much of this toxic stuff we are dosing the earth with.

The average adult embalming requires roughly 3.5 gallons (Cook, 1999) and estimates from the National Funeral Director's Association are that two million Americans are embalmed each year. Ok, boys and girls that adds up to roughly seven million gallons of formaldehyde being deliberately placed in the soil each year.

Oh, and that's not the end of it; there are at least 42 other federally regulated "dangerous chemicals that are commonly used in embalming and body preparation (Iserson, 1994 all of which end up in the ground or being burned in a crematorium. AND, nobody knows how long it takes for formaldehyde to degrade or what damage it does in the meantime (Cook, 1999).

Now, you tell me if embalming is an environment problem or not.