Is it possible to have a greener cremation, despite heavy metals and toxins emitted during the cremation process? Some states, funeral homes and other entities are striving to create the ‘greener’ cremation that helps to eliminate some problems that occur during this funeral process, but few of them are located in the U.S. The following information may help you to eliminate mercury emissions if you choose cremation as your burial option and if your mouth contains fillings that include mercury.
A 2007 article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota Star-Tribune defined the mercury problem succinctly:
Dental amalgam fillings (sometimes called silver fillings) contain mercury. As solids in the mouth, they are considered inert and not a hazard, but when exposed to high temperatures, the mercury vaporizes and becomes airborne, contributing to mercury pollution in the state and beyond.
While there isn’t a large amount of mercury in any one body, the state estimates that, all together, cremation emits about 80 pounds of mercury a year in Minnesota, said Ned Brooks of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The aging baby boomer population tends to have lots of these fillings and as more people choose cremation, pollution isn’t expected to drop.
Just a little mercury released into the air can cause problems. Mercury makes its way through the food chain through fish and then into the people and wildlife that eat the fish. Mercury builds up in the human body, where it can harm the brain and nervous system. Young children, developing fetuses and breast-fed babies are most at risk. Once dispersed into the environment, mercury cannot be recovered.
A bill presented to the State Legislature last year would have required crematories to have a dentist remove fillings before cremation or add mercury-capturing equipment, but it did not become law.
“We are against [the bill] because it’s such a harsh thing to do,” said Waterston. Removing mercury-containing fillings is “not something we can do,” he said, adding “we could learn, if necessary.”
Those in the industry aren’t against mercury control, he said, but they want proof that the extra expense is warranted. They await study results that will quantify mercury emissions.
Many states now are seeking solutions to this mercury-toxin issue, and the 100-year-old mortuary science program at the University of Minnesota is seeking solutions on how to reshape a face once teeth are removed after death so the body is ‘presentable’ for viewing before cremation. However, legislation against mercury emissions is meeting resistance from funeral homes and crematories that do not want to remove teeth that contain mercury fillings. In some cases, the resistance is cost as filters used to trap mercury during the cremation process are not cheap. In others, “moral issues” are at stake. Some cite both reasons in rebuttal.
One solution is to go against the Food and Drug Administration’s advocacy for mercury fillings and use something else that might be safer for your health while you’re living and for everyone else’s health once you’re cremated. Composite fillings are an option. However, if you already have mercury fillings, you may meet resistance at removing those fillings from your dentist, especially since removal may expose you to more mercury poisoning unless the removal is done by an experienced dentist.
Other than using anything other than mercury for a tooth filling, what about options once you’ve died and you want to be cremated? You can make a wish in a will or in another document that you wish to have your teeth removed after death and before cremation. You may find this option is troublesome for many funeral homes, so research this option before you die…otherwise, this wish may create unneeded stress and unnecessary expense to your surviving loved ones.
Finally, search for a crematory in your area that sees mercury poisoning as a viable reason to remove your teeth before cremation, if they do not use filters to eliminate this toxin from the environment.
Unfortunately for U.S. citizens and fortunately for European residents, European entities have identified an increase in mercury in the environment around their crematories and have enacted legislation to protect their citizens. Currently, in this country, only you can provide a solution by either never using mercury fillings or by finding a funeral home or crematory that will remove your teeth before your cremation if you have mercury fillings in your mouth.