Think twice before allowing a crematory

Donna Marie Todd Guest commentary

When I learned that Harwood Home for Funerals was petitioning the town to add a crematorium to their location in downtown Black Mountain, I was stunned. Was the town seriously considering this request?

I have firsthand experience with cremation, Harwood’s services and the available vendors for cremation in this area because my father (the Rev. Dr. Ross Evans) and my husband (Perrin Todd) requested and received cremation. While I believe all businesses are entitled to a profit, Harwood is already making a profit from cremations and has a reliable and very affordable vendor for cremations in Asheville.

Cremation is an industrial operation that can have dangerous “accidents” and therefore has no place in a historic downtown district surrounded by historic homes.

Very serious explosions (industrial accidents) can occur if pacemakers, which can explode in the heat, are not properly removed. Other prostheses, silicone implants and radioactive “cancer seeds” - injectable or implantable radioactive isotopes used to treat several types of cancer - are also on the legal removal list prior to cremation. If an oversight occurs, we could have industrial fire in our historic downtown.

This is not a family barbecue. The gas or propane heat used to cremate human remains reaches a temperature of around 1500-1900 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s an industrial operation by anyone’s standards.

A crematorium is an industrial incinerator that uses all-consuming flames and heat to reduce a large organic mass (the human body) to ash. Buncombe County will only allow crematoriums to be housed in an industrial location, for very good reasons. Asheville Cremation Services, for instance, is located in an industrial district on Riverside Drive. An industrial location allows fires from accidental explosions to be more easily contained and keeps industrial accidents, and their aftermath of toxic fumes and debris, away from neighborhoods.

Here’s a description of the cremation process from the website “Science”: In cremation, an incinerator is preheated to about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsius). The body is placed into a chamber known as the retort. Once the door is sealed, the body is subjected to a jet-engine-like column of flame, aimed at the torso and the chamber reaches a temperature between 1500-1900F. An average human body takes from two to three hours to burn completely and will produce an average of 3 to 9 pounds (1.4 to 4.1 kilograms) of ash.

And then there are impacts of such an operation on our economy. Our sweet town has worked hard to draw tourists to our historic downtown. Tourism is an important part of our local economy. Our Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association, Black Mountain Center for the Arts, Swannanoa Valley Museum, the Old Depot, the town beautification committee and our historic district residents have all contributed countless hours and monetary resources to make our downtown a visually pleasing and alluring tourist destination.

Black Mountain has a lot invested in our tourism economy. Smoke pouring from an industrial incinerator at the end of our historic downtown doesn’t match the charming image our town works hard to preserve and protect.

The buildings in our downtown historic district were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, long before current fire codes. With age comes fragility and our historic district is deserving of its protected designation as a national historic site. To have an industrial incinerator (crematorium) located near these fragile structures jeopardizes the safety of our merchants, tourists and historic district residents.

So as a resident of this town and an owner of a historic district home, I ask that we think seriously about the impact of an industrial incinerator (crematorium) on the historic district we have all worked so hard to improve, protect and promote.

The question is this: Should one man’s business interests be allowed to jeopardize our town’s charming shops, the historic district residents’ safety, and the tourism income so vital to our economy? If the answer is no, give the planning folks at city hall a call.