What’s the connection between mad cow disease and Bradshaw Funeral Home’s Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater, Minnesota? Alkaline hydrolysis.
Jason Bradshaw told the eight MTN members who participated in a Friday, October 17 field trip, that when his family decided to build their own crematory, they considered both flame and flameless cremation. Flameless, also called alkaline hydrolysis, water cremation, or resomation, won out. Why?
Environmentally, flameless cremation is preferable to flame cremation because:
- The carbon footprint is 75% less.
- Toxic emissions from vaporized mercury dental fillings are eliminated.
- The energy consumption is 1/8 that of flame cremation since the solution is heated to 302 degrees as opposed to 1400 degrees.
- Medical implants (e.g. pacemakers and artificial hips) remain intact and could possibly be re-used outside the US, especially in developing countries. Currently, implants from Bradshaw go to a metal recycler, and proceeds go to the United Way.
High-pressure alkaline hydrolysis (there is a less effective low-pressure kind) uses pressure in conjunction with water, potassium hydroxide, and gentle agitation to produce an accelerated version of natural decomposition chemistry.
Alkaline hydrolysis kills 100% of pathogens and leaves no trace of DNA. This feature was game-changing when mad cow disease devastated British herds. When herds around the animal crematories became infected, it was discovered that the infectious prion protein is not destroyed by fire. Alkaline hydrolysis, on the other hand, destroyed the prions. (The Ebola virus is killed by flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis, or burial.)
This disinfecting ability was one of the reasons that in 2006 the Mayo Clinic purchased the first AH machine in the US. According to Jason Bradshaw, the first year Mayo offered AH, 124 out of 126 donor families choose it over flame cremation. Six years later, this popularity, verified by local focus groups, encouraged Bradshaw to invest in a similar facility. (Making an anatomical bequest to the Mayo Medical School is free within a 200-mile radius of Rochester.)
Jason Bradshaw says, “Alkaline hydrolysis is the future of cremation. In 1995 only 15% of people were choosing cremation. Now in Minnesota, the cremation rate is 55%. When our clients are given the choice between flame and flameless at the same cost, 80% of are choosing flameless.”
Down an outdoor walkway, a quiet chapel with a wall of falling water features a window overlooking the room holding the cremation unit. Family and friends can have a viewing in the little chapel and then witness their loved one’s body being placed in the stainless steel cremation chamber.
The process takes 3-4 hours and uses 450 gallons of water. The DNA-free effluent, which looks like thick tea, is drained off, and the intact skeleton remains. After implants are removed, the bones go into a dryer and then a blender, resulting in white powder (about ¼ more remains than a flame cremation produces) that a family can scatter or put in an urn.
Bradshaw’s basic ‘Green Cremation’ package costs the same as their basic flame cremation package, $2395. A container adds $155 and a private viewing adds $200. A direct flame cremation, through Bradshaw’s Simple Traditions, costs $1295.
- For information about flameless cremation, visit Bradshaw’s green cremation site or call 651-342-4040
- Watch Time magazine’s 12-minute YouTube video on Bradshaw’s flameless cremation
- Watch Caitlin Doughty’s informative but irreverent “Ask a Mortician” YouTube video on flameless cremation