Examination of witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
CLIFFORD and MR
180. Is it something an inspector would ask?
(Mr Roberts) I think that if it is an issue
181. No, I mean for the local plan.
(Mr Roberts) I would doubt if they would ask it as
a routine matter, but clearly if it was known in the area that
it was an issue, if concerns had been expressed by the industry,
then it is certainly an issue which ought to be considered in
drawing up and in approving the unitary development plan.
182. Would any assistance be made available
for acquiring those sites, if that were an issue?
(Mr Roberts) I think the local authority would need
to look to the capital allocation system in order to get the resources
to do that.
183. Mr Clifford, why is the Home Office so
scared of grave reuse?
(Mr Clifford) Why do you say that?
Chairman: The theory is, we ask the questions.
184. Sorry, I will expand on my question a little
bit. As you will be aware, there was a study of public attitudes
to reuse by Professor Douglas Davies which essentially illustrated
wide public acceptance for reuse, and yet in your evidence you
have said that "it is not clear that the facts have been
fully established and more work on this seems likely to be required.
No decision has yet been taken on how consultation might be most
effectively undertaken." That sounds to me as if the Home
Office is sweeping the thing under the carpet or possibly burying
(Mr Clifford) The situation is this: that the industry
came to us with the problems, as I explained earlier. We had very
useful and productive discussions on how one might conduct a consultation
exercise on the basis of the issues they raised with us. We then,
having constructed that draft document, thought again.
185. How many years ago was this?
(Mr Clifford) We are talking about 12 to 18 months
186. That is fairly quick, is it not, for a
government department18 months?
(Mr Clifford) I do not think I would comment on that.
We then took the view that although factually the document seemed
a good way of raising the issues, was this a document that would
properly engage with the public in such a way that we got a proper
view on the issues that it contained.
187. What was wrong with it?
(Mr Clifford) It is not a question of what was wrong
with it, as much as whether one could adequately engage the public
on issues which were very sensitive issues. I know we have heard
evidence earlier this morning about the public attitudes to death
and perhaps they are more likely to talk about these things, but
one only has to think about the difficulties of getting people
to provide wills, for example, because at the end of the day people
do not, by and large, want to contemplate their own death. It
seemed to us that some of these aspects of the reuse of graves
really required people to think thoroughly about what was being
proposed here. Yes, the urban studies indicated that I think 40
per cent of the public are in favour and 30 per cent had no objection,
but it still left a sizeable proportion of people who did have
objections, and yes, the document identified potential ways to
mitigate people's concerns and that sort of thing.
188. I am sorry, we do not seem to be getting
to the point here. What concretely is the Home Office going to
do? Have you simply decided "It is too sensitive, it is too
complex, we're not going to do anything about it"?
(Mr Clifford) No, what we have thought is that it
is a difficult issue to raise in such a way as to get a useful,
meaningful exercise running; it is an issue that can be readily
trivialised or sensationalised. While we were working our way
through that, other issues started to come to our attention which
have been raised today about wider issues concerning the industry
as a whole. This led us to wonder as to whether it was right to
focus on the reuse of graves and cemeteries as, if you like, the
central issue from which would flow perhaps primary legislation
which would help us engage in other work, or whether there was
a need to look more widely at the service as a whole, which would
then pick up the other issues of maintenance and so on. So we
are looking with a view
189. We are looking for some snappy answers
here. Are you looking more widely here? If so, when are you going
to report, what are the terms of reference and at what point will
a decision be taken on whether grave reuse is something that should
(Mr Clifford) It is fair enough to say we are in the
foothills of planning some research in this area, and I think
certainly in the light of the evidence we have seen with regard
to this inquiry, this itself will inform and assist any work that
we take forward in the course of, we hope, the coming year.
190. So we are another excuse for you doing
nothing for a bit? I got your expression quite nicely, but for
the record we need some words, so was that an unfair comment from
(Mr Clifford) As I say, we are hoping to take it forward
in the coming year. Quite how quickly it can be done is difficult
for me to say at this stage.
191. I think we will move on to another subject.
This is a question for Mr Etkind, relating to air pollution. What
developments do you anticipate in respect of emission standards
for crematoria in the near future?
(Mr Etkind) The position is at the moment that crematoria
are regulated by local authorities under the Environmental Protection
Act 1990, and there is statutory guidance issued by the Secretary
of State to local authorities on the standards appropriate for
crematoria. The original guidance was issued in 1991, it was reviewed
in 1995 and we are currently in the midst of a second review.
In 1995 the issue of mercury in crematoria came up, arising from
the teeth of the deceased. To give an estimate in relation to
the evidence earlier this morning, the estimate is that 3 grams
of mercury arises from each body on average. That figure is used
by the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory to estimate that
crematoria are a source of between 10 and 11 per cent of mercury
emissions in the country at the moment. That has to be looked
at in the context of a reduction in mercury emissions from 47
tonnes in 1970 to 12.6 tonnes in 1997. A further context is the
fact that predictions are that mercury emissions will increase
from crematoria over the short to medium term, because more people
with teeth will die, putting it in simple terms. In Sweden and
the Netherlands the estimate is that there may be a doubling of
mercury emissions from crematoria over the next 20 years.
192. Where does that fall? Is it localised?
What I am trying to get at is, if you had mercury emissions in
the epicentre of what might be considered an area of greenness
and amenity, would it be a problem?
(Mr Etkind) No, is the likely answer. We have had
some monitoring done around one crematorium in the West Midlands.
The current results we have received show that ambient mercury
is below the level of detection as a result of the crematorium.
The concern is that mercury is a toxic biocumulative heavy metal,
and it is a trans-boundary pollutant, the emissions are transported
and get into the food supply, into fish and into birdlife.
193. So we do not know how widely it is dispersed
if it is airborne?
(Mr Etkind) Very widely. The Paris Commission on the
North Sea is very exercised about mercury and is currently looking
specifically at mercury from crematoria.
194. You have identified that there is going
to be an increase in mercury emissions because more people die
with teeth. Are you planning anything that will tend to reduce
the increase or not?
(Mr Etkind) Sorry, I was moving on to the second half
of the story. In 1999, having decided that we needed to look more
closely at mercury, because at that time the level of mercury
emissions was 10 per cent and it is now 11 per cent. We began
discussions with the Federation of British Cremation Authorities,
knowing they had concerns about the impact of mercury abatement
equipment on crematoria. We went to them asking them for chapter
and verse on what were the real problems, because with the local
air pollution control system under which crematoria are regulated,
there are 80 other industrial structures, and we have always treated
crematoria differently because of their particular sensitivity,
it is not a conventional industrial process. Therefore, rather
than entering into formal discussions of the guidance, we went
to the Federation and asked them for advice on what they thought.
There were discussions. They undertook a survey of their membership,
which led to this 23 per cent figure. We undertook some monitoring
around crematoria, and went to our technical advisers in the Environment
Agency. I received final advice from the advisers on 22 December
last year. In the light of this hearing, we rushed through and
produced a supplementary memorandum which I hope you received
195. We had better check and make sure as to
whether it has arrived or not, but it is on its way?
(Mr Etkind) Yes. That memorandum said, in effect,
that given the fact that the Federation of British Cremation Authorities
is now doing some further work to look at abatement options and
to look at actual emissions, and given that there are a series
of questions that we are not entirely sure uponthere are
different sources for the mercury which is emitted, there are
obviously other sources of mercuryis it most appropriate
to hit crematoria to deal with the mercury emissions, is large-scale
equipment which might not fit onto sites and lead to all these
closures the right solution and so on? So we suspect that we will
wait for the Federation's work, look at that, possibly do some
more work ourselves and review the question of whether to consider
setting a mercury limit for existing crematoria in the course
of the next year 2002.
196. You are only going to burn bodies that
have not got fillings, is that it?
(Mr Etkind) No, there is no proposal to remove teeth
197. I am glad to hear that. Then how are you
going to know how much mercury there is in a body?
(Mr Etkind) Work has already been done, and the estimate
is 3 grams per body.
Mrs Dunwoody: I see. I did not realise we had
a statutory rule for the numbers of bodies.
198. Could I ask Mr Etkind one specific question
in relation to crematoria. I know that the building of cemeteries
or provision of cemeteries within the green belt is accepted under
the relevant planning guidance. Can you confirm whether the building
of a crematorium within the green belt meets the relevant planning
guidance? Is it an acceptable use?
(Mr Etkind) I am afraid I am narrowly on the pollution
(Mr Roberts) I think we may write in with that answer.
We do not have the particular expertise on that here this morning.
199. Perhaps I can pursue the pollution side.
Are we actually totally in control and can make our own decision,
or is the EU offering us advice or guidance, or compelling us
to do anything on this issue?
(Mr Etkind) Despite many reports to the contrary,
there are no EU regulations or controls on this. We have also
received a letter from Commission officials to the effect that
human remains do not constitute waste requiring EU legislation,
but there are various international agreements which do impact
on this. There is the Oslo and Paris Convention, the heavy metal
protocols and the EU Air Quality Framework Directive, with a daughter
framework directive being prepared at the moment on mercury. There
is also a potential impact from the water and hazardous substances
section under the EU Water Framework Directive because of the
effects of mercury going up and then coming down.
200. Finally on this question of pollution,
you have obviously described the position as far as the body is
concerned. What about the ornaments that often go onto coffins?
Is there any control over what goes onto a coffin as an ornament,
to make sure they are not plastic which produces dioxins and things
(Mr Etkind) We have already issued guidance to the
effect that there should be no lead, and guidance on things like
melamine which gives rise to things like cyanide emissions, I
believe. When I said we are going to defer the review of mercury
emissions from existing plant until 2002, we shall now, having
made that decision, move swiftly to reviewing the remainder of
that guidance. That guidance, as I have said, will already contain
some guidance on construction, and also in relation to coffin
content, because people like to put a very wide range of things
in coffins, and we will be looking at that. We will be looking
at different types of coffin constructioncardboard as against
chipboard, for example. One has to say that cardboard also contains
resins and so on, so that may not be a more preferable solution
for crematoria as opposed to burial, but we will be looking at
that in terms of the current review.
201. It is a very sensitive issue as to what
people can put into a coffin, but is there a problem that people
put things in there that, when they burn, do produce difficult
(Mr Etkind) I have learnt, over several years of dealing
with this subject, of some very strange and unusual requests being
made which, in individual cases, could have significant effects.
We have had discussions over the last several years with the Federation
of British Cremation Authorities and the Institute of Burial and
Cremation Administration over whether we should issue guidance
to local authorities to the effect that if there is an odd occasion
when something unusual is going through, not suddenly to prosecute
the crematorium operator for a breach of conditions. The current
position is that it is not felt that these incidents are sufficiently
frequent to warrant stirring up the issue, but we do have that
on the stocks if it does become a problem.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.