Dust in the Wind ~ Thoughts on Cremation


by Rev. Nora Cedarwind Young
(reprinted with permission from the Hospice Volunteers of Jefferson County Newsletter)

People often ask me if scattering cremated remains is legal.
Several sources advise there are a handful of legal restrictions in some states, but they are few and far between. The Funeral Consumers Alliance fall 2005 newsletter shared this insight.

Q. Do ashes pose a health or environmental hazard?
A. No, nor does almost anything that’s been exposed to nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. What remains are inert fragments of bone, mostly calcium.

Q. Don’t you have to buy a permanent urn?
A. No. Any container of your choice is allowed under law. Cookie jars and pottery tend to be most common.

Q. What about ashes into our waterways?
There are businesses that you can pay to scatter ashes for you.

The FCA recently found a New Jersey funeral home website that declared: “If you scatter ashes off a local jetty, you break Federal Law.” Really? Well, kind of. An Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson was located to address federal rules. This spokesperson — let’s call him Deep Urn — has decades of experience with several EPA regional offices. In exchange for anonymity, he agreed to explain what’s really behind section 229.1 of the Federal EPA law. To paraphrase, the law says anyone in the US can bury remains (including ashes) at sea so long as they:

• Take the remains three miles out from shore.

• Report the burial or scattering within a month to the closest EPA office.

Q. But what about families who stand on the beach and scatter? Are they in danger of prosecution?
A. Not really. Burials or scattering that take place within three miles of shore fall under the Clean Water Act, rather than EPA rules, Deep Urn said. States, not the Feds, enforce the CWA. He said he has never heard of any state that pays attention to scattering cremains on the seashore.

And what about the EPA?

“I don’t care about cremated remains,” he said. “We’re trying to deal with real polluters.” He said if you interpreted the laws literally, fishermen could be prosecuted for using bait and allowing it to fall off the hook. Obviously, no one is going to do that, and cremated remains are no different.

What about the reporting requirement?

“I’ve never had private people [report scattering],” he said, “only funeral homes that offer commercial scattering.”

Officials with state and national parks have also confirmed they turn a blind eye when families scatter, even if it’s against the rules. If a funeral home “warns” you about the prohibitions on scattering, it’s probably safe to thank them for their kindly concern and go on your merry way.

Source material: www.funerals.org

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