Death is a very difficult subject for us to imagine, think about or even discuss. However, we still have to make a choice about what will be done with our remains once we have passed away. Many people choose to be buried at a cemetery, and yet others prefer cremation. Cremation appears to be more harmful to the environment due to the fumes being let out into the atmosphere, but embalming prior to burial is a threat far more that we can expect. The chemicals used in embalming fluid are toxic to the environment decomposition of the corpse into the soil. The embalming fluid is also toxic in the area surrounding the actual embalming process itself. The embalmers must handle the toxic chemicals and thereby are exposed to the dangers they release.
In 2006, the cremation rate for the State of Nevada was 68.41% puting the state in 1st place out of all states in the U.S. for the amount of people who die choosing to be cremated.
The chemicals used for embalming 68.41% of bodies in Nevada are:
- Preservative (Arterial) Chemical. These are commonly a percentage (normally 18%-35%) based mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde or in some cases phenol which are then diluted to gain the final index of the arterial solution. Methanol is used to hold the formaldehyde in solution.
- Water Conditioner. These are designed to balance the “hardness” of water (the presence of other trace chemicals that change the water’s pH or neutrality) and to help reduce the deceased’s acidity, a by-product of decomposition, as formaldehyde works best in an alkaline environment.
- Cell Conditioner. These chemicals act to prepare cells for absorption of arterial fluid and help break up clots in the bloodstream.
- Dyes. Active dyes are used to restore someone’s natural colouration and counterstain against conditions such as jaundice as well as to indicate distribution of arterial fluid. Inactive dyes are used by the manufacturer of the arterial fluid to give a pleasant color to the fluid in the bottle but do nothing for the appearance of the embalmed body.
- Humectants. These are added to dehydrated and emaciated bodies to help restore tissue to a more natural and hydrated appearance.
- Anti-Edemic Chemicals. The opposite of humectants, these are designed to draw excessive fluid (edema) from a body.
- Cavity Fluid. This is a generally a very high-index formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde solution injected undiluted directly via the trocar incision into the body cavities to treat the viscera. In cases of tissue gas, phenol based products are often used instead.
- Additional Disinfectants. For certain cases, such as tissue gas, specialist chemicals Triton-28 arterially injected,and topicals such as Dis-Spray or SaniSol 7 can be added to an arterial solution.
In the 1800s arsenic was used for the process of embalming, which was even more toxic to our soil and water ways. Embalming fluid is a hazardous chemical. It works because it “freezes” and kills living cells. Research has found that these chemicals remain in the soil for about 10 years. The nature of the soil environment is dynamic and makes it very hard to study the amount of death caused to microorganisms by embalming fluid during its decade long state. But it is known that formaldehyde used the the embalming process leaches back into the ground as a low level soil contaminant . Natural burials pose no environmental threat at all, it gets soil to the body quickly thus speeding decomposition.
The matter of embalming remains a delicate one for certain people. Some simply do not want to follow this process. Embalming slows decomposition and is unnecessary. There are no health or visual threats posed by at least 95% of dead bodies. The choice remains ours before we cannot decide for ourselves.