Funeral Fumes: The Importance Of Quality Ventilation

Cremation may have become the preferred choice in funeral arrangements for Americans (being performed more often than burials in 2016), but that doesn’t mean burials have gone the way of the dodo; there are still many people who would rather have “traditional” funerals, complete with open caskets, religious services, and ceremonial burials.

Cremation continues to be a more cost-effective choice, and the reason why becomes clear when you consider the amount of effort it takes to embalm and preserve a body. We’ll skip the gory details, but essentially all bodily fluids need to be replaced with a chemical solution, usually comprised of a mixture of glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, phenol, water, and dyes. The toxicity of these formaldehyde-based chemicals can have devastating effects on the living body if not properly protected against:

“Repeated and prolonged exposure to formaldehyde has been associated with lung and nasal passage cancers in humans. It is also highly irritating to the upper respiratory tract and eyes. Skin contact with formaldehyde, even at very low levels, can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Symptoms of this include skin redness, swelling and formation of vesicles or hives.”

Sounds awful, right? That’s why OSHA has placed restrictions and regulations on funeral homes to ensure they’re performing their jobs in the safest way possible. Since formaldehyde-based chemicals are most likely to be inhaled as fumes, ventilation is the most important aspect of funeral home safety. Guaranteeing that you have a functioning and up-to-code HVAC system — which includes remembering to change its air filter every three months to maintain efficiency — can make a world of difference to your nose and lungs.

In fact, even medical examiner’s morgues that deal with murders and investigations rely heavily on quality HVAC systems, to the point where renovation can shut down business. The medical examiner’s morgue in New Castle County, Delaware hasn’t been able to perform an autopsy since July due to an upgrading of the facility’s equipment, which includes a new HVAC system that provides dedicated service exclusively to the morgue area; apparently, the old HVAC system was shared with the building and people at times “complained of the smell.”

Over $1.7 million has been allocated to the project, covering the costs of two new body coolers that will replace aged coolers, a new epoxy floor in morgue area, three new autopsy work stations and a new emergency generator to replace the current one which is beyond repair.

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