Calif. Lawmakers Seek Liquefaction as Alternative to Cremation

It sounds like the stuff of horror movies — placing a body in a steel tube and then covering it with a mixture of water and acid until most of the remains are liquefied.

But it’s actually a scientific process called alkaline hydrolysis that is on track toward becoming an alternative to cremation in California. Lawmakers are unanimously supporting a bill that would legalize the procedure with heavy oversight at mortuaries and funeral homes. Last year Florida passed a similar law, but no business has a license to perform the procedure.

The decomposition process occurs with water and potassium hydroxide, which is then heated for at least three hours. Tissue and organs are dissolved into the liquid, while the bone is left behind as an ashy mixture similar to a cremation. The leftover water is treated and then flushed down a drain.

The process is pollution free because it releases no greenhouse gases into the air.

Only three places in the nation conduct this procedure on humans as a way to dispose of cadavers used for scientific research — the University of Southern California, the University of Florida and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

A fourth, Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio, has been using alkaline hydrolysis for two months without a permit. Last month state officials ordered owner Jeff Edwards to stop using alkaline hydrolysis process; Edwards says he plans to sue.

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