Guidelines proposed on ash disposal

Mortuary board offers advice after objections along private beach

'Community was upset'

Families are told they can't scatter remains wherever they wish

July 25, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Morticians wants to add a set of guidelines to its regulations in an attempt to stop people from using a private beach on the Chesapeake Bay to dispose of the ashes of loved ones.

The board began contemplating guidelines on how to properly dispose of cremated remains last fall, after residents of a cozy Pasadena community as picturesque as its name -- Venice on the Bay -- began complaining about visitors scattering ashes from their beach.

The board's guidelines remind people that even though the state does not require that cremated remains be placed in a cemetery, "this does not mean that cremated remains can be freely scattered or otherwise disposed of upon public domain, or upon the private property of another person."

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reviewing the guidelines and will be soliciting public comment on them in two to three weeks, said John P. Chaplin, president of the Board of Morticians.

If the health department approves the guidelines, the board will require crematoriums to provide them to families making cremation arrangements.

"We're pleased that morticians working with our lawmakers are taking steps to address the problem," said Rebecca Kolberg, vice president of the Venice on the Bay Community Association. "We're hoping this would make people think long and hard about the way they dispose of cremated remains and to do it in a dignified and respectful manner that takes into account the deceased's relatives and people in the surrounding areas."

The problem in Venice on the Bay began late last summer, when residents noticed that people were scattering ashes from their beach -- sometimes when children were swimming.

Residents videotaped one memorial service during which the wind blew the ashes onto spectators on the beach.

The practice so distressed one resident that she hired a priest to pour holy water along the beach.

"The community was very upset," said state Del. Joan Cadden, a Democrat who represents Pasadena.

"It was just so callous the way these people were doing it. The [state board's guidelines] will put it in writing what you can't do with them."

Cadden, Del. John R. Leopold and Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, who also represent Pasadena, spoke with the Board of Morticians in November about introducing the guidelines.

After a 30-day public comment period, the state health department will decide whether to incorporate the guidelines into the Board of Morticians' regulations.

Such guidelines are becoming increasingly important across the country as more people choose cremation, said Jack Springer, executive director of the Chicago-based Cremation Association of North America.

Last year, half a million people were cremated; 90,000 of them asked to have their remains scattered either on private property or on the water.

The state of Washington, where more than half of the deceased are cremated, requires that ashes be reduced to the size of grains of sand before they can be scattered.

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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