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St. Petersburg funeral home first in country with alkaline hydrolysis cremation option

ST. PETERSBURG — Some people choose to be buried. Others pick cremation.

But soon there will be another option: alkaline hydrolysis — or chemical cremation — one of a wave of green burial options gaining popularity.

In about two weeks, the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg will become the first in the country to offer the option to the public, said company president John T. McQueen, a second-generation funeral home director.

As a result, he has gotten requests for interviews from media outlets around the United States and Canada.

Proponents say it is more environmentally friendly and gentler on the deceased. Critics say it is like flushing a loved one down the drain.

"We believe in giving families all the options," McQueen said. "It's not going to be a process for everyone — just like flame cremation. I can give you a long list of people who will say 'Hey, I don't want to be burned up.' "

The process, also known as bio-cremation or flameless cremation, works by placing a body in a pressurized drum that holds up to 400 gallons of water. A chemical is added and heated to 350 degrees. The heated mixture is recirculated through the drum for two to four hours.

When the cycle is complete, soft tissue is dissolved into a soapy, murky liquid, which eventually makes its way into the city's wastewater system.

McQueen said the liquid is sterile and that the body is broken down into amino acids so there are no human remains or DNA. Left behind are bone and metal. The bones are pummeled into a powder and given to the family.

McQueen said the process leaves less of an environmental footprint than traditional burials or cremations.

The process has been two years in the making for the St. Petersburg funeral home. Between the device and construction needed to house equipment, it will cost about $550,000.

The funeral home had to get state approval and obtain the proper city permits.

Among other issues, the city was concerned about the discharge of acids, fats and oils into the system, said St. Petersburg's director of water resources, George Cassady.

Extensive chemical tests have been done, McQueen said. The city said the funeral home has shown that the fluids produced wouldn't violate any established standards.

"We didn't pick sides," Cassady said. "It was simply a matter of did they technically meet our standards."

He added that the city will randomly test the discharge from the funeral home — just like it does with any other business.

Cassady said people have a tendency to be alarmist when something like this is introduced, but all sorts of unseemly stuff already enters the system.

"You have no idea what's already going down the drain," he said.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.

Biochemist Sandy Sullivan said new flameless cremations employ “the same chemistry that’s used in nature … it just happens much faster.”

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Biochemist Sandy Sullivan said new flameless cremations employ “the same chemistry that’s used in nature … it just happens much faster.”

St. Petersburg funeral home first in country with alkaline hydrolysis cremation option 09/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 11:27am]
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