'Cremation pollution' is real and must be addressed, says EcoWaste Coalition

Smoke coming from crematoriums--which have become more active as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic--is causing a legitimate air pollution issue.

(Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno/ Unsplash)

In this regard, pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition urged crematorium operators on Thursday, April 29 to employ remedial measures to control the smoke coming from their facilities, which are in the business of burning corpses.

“Crematorium operators should waste no time in assessing their compliance to environmental regulations following these incidents,” said Thony Dizon, chemical safety campaigner of EcoWaste Coalition.

“They need not wait for aggrieved citizens to turn to the media or for a video of thick smoke billowing from the stack to go viral before taking the right action,” he pointed out.

The group noted that residents of Muntinlupa City and Santa Rosa have voiced their complaints on television regarding the stinking odor and thick smoke coming from public crematoriums not far from their homes.

“The exceptional demand for bodies to be cremated amid the COVID-19 pandemic is no excuse to downplay the right of citizens to clean air. It’s a basic right protected by law," Dizon stressed.

Republic Act (RA) No. 8749, or the Clean Air Act, recognizes the people’s “right to breathe clean air” and directs the state to guarantee its enjoyment by all, he said.

EcoWaste Coalition further reckoned that crematoriums must have valid permits to operate as well as be registered with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) as a hazardous waste generator.

Every crematorium should have an accredited pollution control officer and should be equipped with the necessary pollution prevention and control devices to keep emissions within the allowable limits, the group said.

Dizon said that "while we lack local data on pollutants released by crematoria and their health impacts, it’s no secret that cremators release hazardous air pollutants."

A 2018 study on the “Emission Characteristics of Harmful Air Pollutants from Cremators in Beijing, China” showed that emissions from facilities directly discharging flue gas exceed standards.

“The process of corpse cremation generates numerous harmful air pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals,” the report said, adding “these pollutants could have severe effects on the surrounding environment and human health.”

A more recent paper on “Crematoria Emissions and Air Quality Impacts” published in 2020 by the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health in Canada said “the pollutants of most concern are those known to be toxic to humans and which can bioaccumulate in tissues (for example, dioxins/furans and mercury) as well as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which can negatively impact the heart and lungs and is associated with some chronic illnesses and adverse birth outcomes.”