In South Australia, the EPA regulates the environmental impacts from crematoria. Under the Environment Protection Act 1993, the cremation of bodies is classified as an activity of environmental significance which requires environmental authorisation in the form of an EPA licence.
From May to November 2008, the EPA conducted an audit of the crematoria sector in response to a query from an industry consultant.
The consultant questioned why the EPA focused on emission limits for medical waste incinerators but did not focus on emission limits to the same extent for crematoria.
In response to this, the EPA audited all 10 crematoria within South Australia (both human and pet). The audit involved a review of the cremator’s compliance with their current licence conditions and legislation administered by the EPA.
The audit helped the EPA to develop a consistent approach to regulating crematoria and determine the levels of compliance within the industry sector.
The process of cremation
Remains are cremated in a primary chamber at high temperature using natural gas and excess air.
The exhaust gases from the primary chamber are fully combusted in a secondary chamber (afterburner), again using natural gas.
The temperature and residence time in the secondary chamber are selected so that full combustion occurs. This ensures no smoke and/or odour are emitted from the cremation process.
Environmental issues associated with cremation
During the cremation process, the following pollutants can be emitted such as particles (visible as smoke), odour, greenhouse gases and nitrogen oxides.
The pollutant explanatory table details the potential pollutants emitted from the cremation process and shows that it is important to optimise gas usage.
While ensuring no smoke and odour emissions by using as little fuel gas as possible, the process will also reduce the quantities of pollutants emitted to a minimum. This is because some pollutants (such as odour) require more natural gas to ensure full combustion, while others (such as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) increase with more gas usage.
The audit findings
- There is variability in the requirements regarding temperature and residence time in the afterburner/secondary chamber and varying EPA monitoring requirements between each crematorium. These requirements vary from no requirements to significant levels of stack emissions.
- International environmental measures include minimum temperature and residence time in the afterburner to reduce smoke and odour emissions, restricting chlorinated materials and mercury reduction.
- Australian interstate crematoria are regulated by councils, not the EPA. In some states, the EPA provides input to development applications.
- While each cremator is designed to operated differently, there were no visible smoke or odour emissions from any cremator.
Where to from here?
The findings provided valuable information about the environmental performance of the crematoria sector within SA.
As a result, the EPA is determined to improve the consistency of monitoring requirements for the sector. This involves altering the requirements for each crematorium.
The requirements insist that there is no visible smoke or odour being emitted from a facility during normal operation. This will be assessed visually by:
- checking records of online smoke measurement
- reviewing operating parameters such as temperature and residence time
- checking the operation in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
The requirements mean that while some facilities may increase the level of monitoring they conduct, others would not be required to conduct monitoring to the extent as they have been previously.
The requirements promote consistency within the crematoria sector and assist with ensuring that the minimum possible amount of pollutants are emitted from the cremation process.