15 June 2018

"Aquamation" is cremation by water

In 2016, cremation became the most common method of body disposal in the U.S., overtaking entombment for the first time. This shift is often attributed to the high cost of traditional burial and the waning importance of religion. But experts also point to society’s changing views about how dead bodies should be disposed of. The spectrum of what’s morally acceptable is broadening, at the same time that the most common disposal methods are coming under scrutiny for their environmental impact. More than four million gallons of toxic embalming fluids and 20 million feet of wood are put in the ground in the U.S. every year, while a single cremation emits as much carbon dioxide as a 1,000-mile car trip. Thus, the rise in America of “green burials,” where bodies are wrapped in biodegradable material and not embalmed...

Sieber is a part of this trend, but she doesn’t want a green burial. When she dies, she told me, she wants her body to be dunked in a high-pressure chamber filled with water and lye. That water will be heated to anywhere from 200 to 300 degrees, and in six to twelve hours her flesh, blood, and muscle will dissolve. When the water is drained, all that will remain in the tank are her bones and dental fillings. If her family desires, they can have her remains crushed into ash, to be displayed or buried or scattered. This process is known colloquially as water cremation and scientifically as alkaline hydrolysis, or aquamation...

Alkaline hydrolysis was originally marketed as a way to rapidly decompose animal bodies and use their nutrients for fertilizer. It was later adopted by scientific labs to dispose of disease-contaminated bodies, like cow carcasses infected by mad cow disease in the 1990s. Its commercial use for animals began in the early 2000s, Seiber said, as grieving pet owners sought a sentimental disposal option that didn’t require an expensive burial or involve burning Fido to ashes.

In addition to its gentleness and cost (aquamation for dogs runs anywhere from $150 to $400, while cremation is around $100), veterinarians and pet funeral homes began to market aquamation’s environmental benefits.
But Sieber may not get her wish of being aquamated when she dies. Only 15 states allow alkaline hydrolysis for human remains, and Indiana, where Sieber lives and where Bio-Response is based, is not one of them. Casket-makers and the Catholic Church are working to make sure it stays that way. 
Much more at the longread at The New Republic.


  1. Can Aquamation be performed on dead fish?

  2. Link to longread?

  3. I prefer the idea pioneered by Promessa -- freezing and then vibrating the frozen body into powder. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/this-new-burial-technique-turns-a-corpse-into-a-tiny-pile-of-freeze-dried-fertilizer-1788824/ I don't know why it's not in the US yet (as far as I know.)

  4. I live on the Big Island of Hawaii and for years I've suggested it would make a lot of sense to drop corpses into the lava lake at Kilauea. The small carbon footprint of the helicopter flight would be much less than standard cremation. Unfortunately, the believers in the native Hawaiian mythology of Madame Pele find my idea sacreligious. Oh well . . . .

  5. I really don't see what the religious issues are with this, or with cremation. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" I believe is how it goes, and unless I'm very much in error, cremation certainly achieves that goal. So does aquamation, if you powder the bones.

    To paraphrase Mark Twain, I have nothing against religion at all. But an Established Church is dangerous.

  6. Eventually, environmentally speaking, the cleanest way will win, the hell with the Catholic's and casket-marker's Lobby machine.


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