Board recommends allowing crematorium Neighbors oppose Elkridge incinerator, citing odor, radiation

August 02, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board recommended allowing the county's first crematorium for human remains in Elkridge yesterday, despite protests from neighbors worried about possible infection, smells and radioactivity escaping from its smokestack.

The project manager for Capitol Crematorium of Columbia assured the board that the 1,800-degree heat in the incinerator chambers would prevent smell or harmful emissions into nearby communities.

But neighbors, submitting petitions with over 200 names, were unconvinced.

"I know it's certainly going to smell like something," said Michael Hatfield of Euclid Avenue. "Most people do not want this."

Planning Board members seemed equally uneasy, with Gary Kaufman -- who runs funeral homes in Elkridge offering cremation -- leading intense questioning of the developer despite Kaufman's ties to the industry.

After the meeting, project manager Fred Glassberg said board members and neighbors were reacting emotionally, calling their complaints "psychological, absolutely psychological."

Capitol Crematorium is a father-son partnership led by Gerald Hamel of Columbia, who teaches business technologies at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The company hopes to take advantage of the increasing popularity of cremation by building a crematorium on South Hanover Road in a single 50-by-30-foot room with a bay door in an existing building.

"It's a good investment," Glassberg said. "We looked around for a lot of investments." The crematorium would handle no more than three human bodies a day, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, according to conditions set by the Planning Board.

The board set other conditions as well: Only certified operators can run the machine, though Kaufman said the state does not yet have a certification process for crematorium operators. No more than five people can witness the cremation. And there must be a refrigeration chamber that can hold three bodies on site.

The crematorium would be in a light manufacturing zone, but it would be just 500 feet from Loudon Avenue in the Harwood Park neighborhood.

"It seems like a very cold operation," said Polly Thornton, a local journalist who said she had talked with several neighbors. "The people in the area are very concerned this may lead to the burning of toxic waste ."

Added John Chabal of Ducketts Lane: "To me, a crematorium, that's the end of the line. That's the last stop, and I certainly don't want Elkridge to be the last stop."

To the list of worries, Planning Board member Kaufman added one more -- radiation left in bodies after treatments for cancer. "If you have a breakdown, you're going to get this out of the smokestack," Kaufman said.

The incinerator's manufacturer, Industrial Equipment & Engineering Co. of Orlando, Fla., reached by telephone after the meeting, said the possibility of dangerous radioactive emission was remote because of the low level of radiation used in medical treatments.

William Beckner, a senior staff scientist with the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, agreed: "I think that would be very unlikely."

Planning Board member Kaufman, also on the state Board of Morticians, criticized several aspects of the proposal and voted on it even though he manages two funeral homes in Elkridge that offer cremation services.

County ethics law prohibits public officials from acting on behalf of the county on issues that have a "direct financial impact" on business interests with which they are affiliated.

Kaufman said his funeral homes would not compete with the proposed crematorium because a Beltsville company -- not his own -- performs the cremations for his clients.

The company that owns Kaufman's funeral homes, Service Corporation International, has crematoriums but none in Maryland, he said.

The Board of Appeals will have a hearing and the county's final say on the project Sept. 17. After that, Capitol Crematorium would still need state air-quality permits to build and operate the crematorium.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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