Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by The Federation of British Cremation Authorities and The Cremation Society of Great Britain (CEM 101)


  As you may know, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was responsible for the introduction of a new and much needed integrated pollution control regime. The cremation process, which involves an emission to air, has specified performance standards defined in Guidelines issued by the Secretary of State. Results of continuous flue gas monitoring and annual sampling of emissions provide the local Environmental Health Officer and indeed the general public with the confidence that the current standards of operation are being met in each establishment.

  The new standards introduced in the first Guidelines in 1992 required that all British crematoria renew or replace their equipment by 1 April 1998. This was achieved, despite the need in many cases to carry out extensive building works, within the defined time scale. The total cost of this refurbishment programme across the industry was between £125 million and £150 million. It should be noted that the vast majority of British crematoria (85 per cent) are owned and operated by local authorities—so, much of the huge expense has been borne by local taxpayers.

  The latest four yearly review of the Guidance Notes, currently being undertaken by the DETR Air Quality Division, has indicated that crematoria may now be required to undergo further major industry changes involving the introduction of flue gas cleaning equipment. This, in part, is in response to an initiative from a few European countries for a "reduction in background emissions of mercury".

  However, despite repeated requests for information, the DETR has not produced any evidence that mercury is being emitted in any significant quantity—certainly not enough to justify a massive refurbishment programme. Indeed, research undertaken at a Midlands crematorium over a prolonged period indicates that the level of mercury in the ambient air was even below the limit of scientific detection.

  It is clear from our extensive survey among cremation authorities that the introduction of this new equipment would:

    —  Impose a further substantial burden on cremation authorities (estimated at a further £150 million).

    —  Result in the closure of 23 per cent of the 242 crematoria in Britain.

    —  Herald fundamental changes to the cremation service in Britain.

  Virtually all cremation authorities have indicted that they have insufficient space to accommodate the new equipment and 25 per cent are unable to extend their buildings for this purpose. Closure of a local crematorium will certainly result in inconvenience and distress to grieving families in this the most sensitive of public services. The estimated capital costs involved are likely to produce an increase in cremation fees of between £70 and £100 per funeral.

  In the absence of adequate factual evidence or information, the Federation of British Cremation Authorities and The Cremation Society of Great Britain have commissioned an urgent major research programme to investigate all the issues relating to emissions, including mercury, their presence and effect on air quality. The research will also consider the ability of crematoria to maintain their service if abatement plant was proved to be necessary. The DETR has been advised of this initiative in anticipation that the new Guidance Notes, to be issued shortly, will permit the comprehensive investigation to be concluded and made public before any potentially damaging social changes can be imposed upon the British people.

  We have taken this opportunity to write to you and your parliamentary colleagues to advise you of the relevant circumstances and request your active support in avoiding the possibility of unjustified crematorium closures with the public outrage that this may engender.

January 2001

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