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Options for what are called 'final arrangements' are getting more ecologically positive

RITA A. LEONARD - Wilhelms Family Services Adviser Sarah Lewis, shown in a chapel at the Funeral Home. If the disposal of our remains after we perish makes you queasy, you might want to skip this story. On the other hand, if you are ecologically inclined, there might be some good news in here for you – because in these eco-friendly times, even cremation is taking a "green" stand.

Wilhelm's Portland Memorial in Westmoreland, one of the oldest funeral homes in Portland, is now offering "Aqua Cremation", described as "a gentle alternative to flame cremation". To its credit, according to Wilhelm's, this process offers over 90% energy savings, and there are no emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses. Further, it has one-tenth the carbon footprint of flame-based cremation, "and results in 20% more ash remains returned to the family."

The scientific name for the new procedure is "alkaline hydrolysis", and it's already in use at many medical and veterinary institutions. Wilhelm's "Family Services Adviser" Sarah Lewis says, "We've been offering this popular service for about three months. The process takes three to four hours, and the ashes that are turned over to family members are calcium phosphate, which is more white-colored." Not that many folks open the urn to look.

The basis for this is that the human body is about 65% water. The procedure is as follows: The remains are gently placed in a container that is then put in a clean stainless steel vessel. A combination of water flow, temperature, and alkalinity accelerates the natural process of tissue hydrolysis. At completion, the chemicals are fully used up, producing a sterile water solution which is then returned to the ecosystem via normal waste water facilities.

Lewis tells THE BEE that the procedure uses less water than a single household commonly uses in one day, and the calcium phosphate remains are safe – pathogen and disease-free. The water-based process uses 95% water and 5% alkali, and by the end, the alkali is completely used up. "The traditional memorial ceremony remains unchanged," adds Lewis. "The remains will float, but can be kept in an urn, or scattered in a special place."

So now you know. If you'd like to talk with Lewis further about all this, her telephone number is 503/545-7170.

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