“We didn’t want that in our neighborhood:” Birmingham residents are worried about the crematorium coming to Echo Highlands

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – The thought of breathing the air emitted by a crematorium is not pleasant.

Especially during the pandemic, when nationwide, the number of deaths and cremations is on the rise, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

Neighbors in Birmingham’s Echo Highlands community are fighting this idea.

“The problem is scary because you have kids who want to go out and play,” Kenneth Johnson said.

He lives less than a mile from where the Cornerstone funeral and cremation services are being built on Carson Road.

The Alabama Board of Funeral Services told CBS 42 that people’s concerns often stem from a misunderstanding of how cremations work.

“The way crematoria are designed these days, they are so regulated by the EPA that they are designed to burn off all emissions,” said Executive Director Charles Perine.

Cornerstone Funeral Home has faced opposition from the Echo Highlands community as a whole. Johnson said residents rejected the facility at a neighborhood meeting before the issue went to city council.

Even some local officials sided with the neighbors.

“I voted against,” District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods said. “I am the representative of a group of people, so it is very important for me to be in tune with what the whole group wants. ”

The funeral home and crematorium are under construction in District 1, and even without the initial support from Councilor Woods, he told CBS 42 that he got the overall support of City Council. In March 2020, council voted to authorize the zoning of a crematorium at the funeral home on Carson Road.

“We just couldn’t believe they were trying to set up a crematorium in our neighborhood,” Johnson explained. “We didn’t want that in our neighborhood.

He believes that the emissions from the crematorium may be harmful to the health of neighbors.

“Everyone deserves the chance to breathe clean air,” Johnson said.

While there isn’t much evidence of long-term health impacts from living near a crematorium, we do know that the facilities emit small amounts of harmful pollutants.

“Emissions from funeral home crematoriums are primarily particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. Other pollutants such as mercury (dental fillings) are possible; However, they would be quite low and less prevalent as dental fillings have moved to mercury-free fillings, ”a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Department of Health said in an email.

Bernard Buggs, the owner of the future funeral and crematorium, told CBS 42 neighbors shouldn’t be concerned.

“We will abide by everything that concerns the laws and the broadcasts that affect them,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”

When it comes to crematorium regulations, the laws are different from those of other local industries. A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency told CBS 42 that there are currently no pollution control standards for crematoria. They said in a full statement:

“The EPA has determined that the human body should not be labeled or considered as ‘solid waste’. Therefore, human crematoria are not solid waste combustion units and are not a sub-category of Other Solid Waste Incineration (OSWI) for regulation. Animal crematoria are also excluded from this rule. See: Final rule for performance standards for new stationary sources and emission guidelines for existing sources: other solid waste incineration units, published in a Federal Register notice on December 16, 2005.

Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You can contact your state’s board of directors for information or assistance. In some states, the State Board of Mortuary Arts or the Department of Health & Environment can address this type of problem. Some towns and villages also have ordinances. General information on environmental and safety issues related to cremation is available from the North American Cremation Association (CANA).

In short, the EPA currently does not have a pollution control standard that applies to crematoria. That said, if the emissions from the new crematorium are large enough to exceed specified thresholds (for example, for particulates), there would be a process to go through to obtain an air permit. The air licensing authority in Birmingham, Alabama is the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) Air and Radiation Protection Division. JCDH may also have additional local requirements that apply to these facilities.

A JCDH spokesperson said locally: “The permit limits the amount that can be incinerated in a period of time to ensure that the incinerator operates according to the manufacturer’s design. It should be noted that the incinerator has a control device called an afterburner which burns air at high temperature to reduce the pollutants mentioned above. The JCDH inspects these facilities and examines the annual reports to ensure their proper functioning. Typical emissions from incinerators in the region are a few tonnes per year or very low compared to other sources of pollution.

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