Embalm, v.: To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds.
- Ambrose Bierce
The practice of embalming has existed since early history throughout many lands and cultures. In the United States, the vast majority of bodies are embalmed, yet few people understand how and why. Embalming disinfects, temporarily preserves and restores, to an acceptable physical appearance, a dead human body. As human remains begin to decompose almost immediately after death, thereby offering an ideal environment for microbial growth, untreated remains pose a public health concern.
While embalming sanitizes the body, it also retards decomposition, thereby temporarily preserving the body. In view of America's highly mobile society, embalming permits friends and family to travel great distances, often several days after a death, to attend the funeral ceremony and allows the body to be buried at some place other than where death occurred. Additionally, embalming restores the body to an acceptable physical appearance for viewing following a traumatic death or devastating illness.
Certain religious beliefs may prohibit embalming or place restrictions on its practice.
The Embalming Process
The embalming process begins with the thorough washing and disinfection of the body. The mouth, nose and other openings are sanitized and closed to prevent excretions which could be a source of disease or infection. Embalming chemicals are then injected into the body through one or more accessible arteries, while body fluids are drained through corresponding veins. Embalming chemicals kill bacteria and temporarily preserve the body by altering the physical structure of the body's proteins. A latticework of inert, firm protein is created that can no longer serve as a host for bacteria or be acted upon by enzymes. Thus the decomposition process is retarded and the body is sanitized and temporarily preserved.
Embalming is not routinely required by law, but may be necessary if death is due to certain diseases; if final disposition is not made within a prescribed period of time; if refrigeration or immediate burial is not available; or if a body is to be transported between states or internationally in a common carrier. Some states require embalming for transportation within the state, beyond the place where death occurred. Funeral directors may require embalming if the funeral ceremony selected by a family includes viewing and are generally required to ask permission of the deceased's next-of-kin verbally or in writing before embalming. A funeral director can explain specific laws, policies or circumstances that influence decisions regarding embalming.
Source: The Web
Putting the Formaldehyde Standard to Work at Your Funeral Home
Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas commonly known as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries. Formaldehyde is also found in other products such as chemicals, particle board, household products, glues, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, fiberboard and plywood. It is also widely used as an industrial fungicide, germicide and disinfectant. Most funeral directors are familiar with the term formalin. Formalin is a chemical mixture containing 37 to 50% formaldehyde and 6 to 15% alcohol stabilizer. Chemicals used for preparation and embalming procedures today do not contain such a high percentage of formaldehyde.
Hygiene protection, eye/face wash, quick drench shower, housekeeping and emergency procedures are all required work practice procedures that must be implemented at your funeral home where there is a regulated formaldehyde area. These procedures will help you prepare for unseen emergencies that can occur while working with formaldehyde. Training is required for these procedures before your employees begin using formaldehyde in the workplace or enter into a formaldehyde regulated area. If, after training has been completed, you make any changes to the procedures, purchase new equipment and/or hire a new employee, you must implement the updated procedures and retrain all employees.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) plays a big part in these procedures. That is why it is so important to have the proper required PPE on hand at all times. Respirators may be required for emergencies. If you use a respirator for emergencies only (because it is not required due to control of low and maintained formaldehyde permissible exposure limits), you must follow the Respiratory Protection Program. Hygiene protection is one of the most neglected requirements of this standard. During inspections, a large number of formaldehyde-regulated areas fail to pass due to funeral home owner and/or employee either not knowing the requirements, being given wrong information or possessing an attitude of "I will do it my way." Many formaldehyde-regulated areas do not have the proper (or have no) eye/face wash and/or drench shower.
Listed below are some of the problems regarding eye/face wash and drench showers:
For operations involving formaldehyde liquids or gas, the employer shall conduct a program to detect leaks and spills, including regular visual inspections.
Preventative maintenance of equipment, including surveys for leaks, shall be undertaken at regular intervals.
Success in the use of any embalming fluid depends largely on manipulation, an important part of the process being the thorough removal of fluid from the circulatory system before undertaking the injection of the embalming liquid.
Source: The above recipe for embalming fluid and directions for its use (such as they are) came from a program I picked up when I went to an exhibit at City Gallery in Wellington. The exhibition was called room for error by Australian artist Susan Norrie and was held 9 November 93 - 13 Feb 94. The above recipe is detail from Model Seven 1993. I presume it's the real thing. To see a copy of the original recipe, click here. I assume one of the reasons the exhibit was called room for error is because, with the above directions being so sketchy, a few errors just might be made before you figure out what the heck the writer had in mind.
I put this article in this section on the environment because I personally feel the environment would be better served if bodies were not embalmed (nor encased in anything more than a cardboard box or flannel blanket), but were allowed to "melt" into the soil. (See several articles in the section on ageing and beyond, Older and Under, for more on the topic of the non-spiritual possibilities that exist for the body after death. These include funerals, jerky, popsicles, fertiliser, ashes, orbit or dust...)
by Nathan Welton
If laid out head to toe, every person buried last year in the United States would form a line stretching from Los Angeles to New York City. Since Britain’s low-impact “green burial” methods (see “Dust to Dust,” Currents, November/December 1998) have yet to catch on in the US, most of these bodies are embalmed with formaldehyde, placed in caskets made of toxic heavy metals, and buried in cemeteries kept pristine with herbicides and pesticides. While our burial practices may intuitively seem environmentally unsound, the science behind the subject is shaky since nobody has made an extensive study of cemetery pollution in the US.
Thanks to the stubborn ways of the funeral industry, Canada and the US are the only two nations that regularly practice the ancient art of embalming. The process coagulates the body’s proteins, raising major pollution concerns among eco-burial advocates. But the toxic evidence is ambiguous. John Konofes, director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa, has found that embalming fluids have contaminated groundwater near Civil War cemeteries. But these fluids were based on arsenic, which has been out of use since the early 1900s. Formalin, a 37% solution of formaldehyde in water, became the new standard.
But Formalin isn’t exactly safe. In the early 1980s, the National Cancer Institute reported that anatomists and embalmers were at a significantly higher risk for leukemia and brain cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency listed formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen in 1987. Despite that ruling, each year the funeral industry buries 350 thousand gallons of formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is at least safer than arsenic, which Richard Laursen, a chemistry professor at Boston University, says doesn’t break down in the environment. He adds that formaldehyde will evaporate out of embalming fluid and poses little threat to water supplies. “I would say there isn’t any [formaldehyde in cemetery land],” says Laursen.
Embalming is by no means the public health necessity the funeral industry implies. The National Funeral Directors Association website offers this self-serving tidbit: “As human remains begin to decompose almost immediately after death... untreated remains pose a public health concern.” But “diseases die when we die,” says Marion Grau, former director of Canada’s green burial-oriented Memorial Society. “People say, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to have AIDS in groundwater,’ but that doesn’t happen.”
Source: www.emagazine.com The Environment Magazine
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