7th August 01:05
‘Dangerous' implants a burning question for state crematories (down cancer)
Thank you Ruby!
‘Dangerous' implants a burning question for state crematories
By JENNIFER McKEE - IR State Bureau - 08/07/03
HELENA — Heart pacemakers are the least of Plentywood mortician
Dave Fulkerson's worries.
Pacemakers explode during the process of cremation. But they're
usually visible under the skin of the deceased and easily removed.
What about radioactive, anti-cancer drug implants? They are impossible
to detect. What happens when they burn up?
‘‘They would be liberated into the air,'' said Fulkerson,
a funeral director and member of the state's Board of Funeral Service.
‘‘We could be distributing a very low dose of radiological
Fulkerson and the rest of the Board of Funeral Service are in the
process of defining just what is a ‘‘hazardous implant''
in the dead — materials that must be removed before a body can
The need to define a hazardous implant grew out of a legislative
auditor's report late last year, said Cheryl Smith, licensing
specialist for the board. By state law, a body cannot be cremated with
a pacemaker or other ‘‘hazardous implant,'' as defined by
the board. But until now, Smith said, the board had never tried to
define such an implant. The legislative auditor's office told the
board they must. The board will meet in Billings in October to further
finalize the definition.
But its task is harder than it seems.
‘‘There's so many (implants),'' said Jered Scherer, a
Billings mortician, cemetery and crematory operator. Scherer is also
president of the Board of Funeral Service. ‘‘It's hard for
us to get all of them down, to actually name them.''
Silicone breast implants, by the way, are perfectly safe left inside
the dead, although larger ones ‘‘sometimes will leave a
lump'' in a crematory chamber, said Jack Springer, executive director
of the Cremation Association of North America.
And even if the board can list all the possibly hazardous materials
implanted in a body today, medicine is always marching forward,
‘‘It's advancing so rapidly, a regulation meaningful today
could be outdated next year,'' he said.
Defining what's hazardous is only half the battle. Discovering what's
been implanted in a body — hazardous or not — is just as
hard and important to know.
Right now, Fulkerson said, funeral directors and crematories rely on
information from the deceased's family. Such information is required
on a cremation authorization, which must be signed before a body can
Such authorizations are binding, legal contracts, Springer said.
But the authorizations are not fool-proof.
‘‘Some families don't know (what's implanted),'' Scherer
said. ‘‘They forget things.''
Other times, Fulkerson said, they may be embarrassed about a
particular implant and intentionally not tell the funeral director
‘‘We can ask the doctor, but in most cases, the doctor is
prohibited from telling us,'' he said.
Despite the board's difficulties, Springer said accidentally
incinerating dangerous or explosive implants in crematories is quite
rare. Still, his organization regularly fields calls from crematories
and funeral directors around the nation with questions about implants
— usually regarding radioactive anti-cancer medicines.
Many times, hospitals will remove such implants before the body is
released, he said. Often, such medicines are weak beta-particle
emitters that don't pose much danger to embalmers and others who
handle the deceased.
Still, Springer shared Fulkerson's concerns about medical technology.
Most medical advancements are concerned with extending life, not with
alerting the professionals at the other end.
Consequently, crematory operators are often in the dark about what
might be in the bodies they're handling.
‘‘We don't really have an answer to that,'' Springer said.
‘‘The medical world needs to communicate.''