- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Maryland and Virginia officials are taking a look at regulations covering crematories in their states in the wake of the grim discovery at a Georgia facility, where hundreds of bodies were found rotting on its grounds.
Virginia's Department of Health Professions plans to inspect the state's 52 registered crematories by month's end, and it is considering developing tighter regulations.
"It has heightened our awareness," Faye Lemon, enforcement director of the state Department of Health Professions, said of the Georgia incident. "We've known for a while that we wanted to look into crematories a little bit more. But on the list of things to do, we've now moved it up as one of our top priorities."
Under the way things work now, crematories that operate independently of a funeral home about 20 percent of all crematories in Virginia are not inspected unless someone brings a complaint against them. The rest of the crematories are connected with funeral-home companies.
Although state rules stipulate that funeral homes must be inspected every three years, no written rule requires the four state inspectors who inspect funeral homes to also check the crematories on those sites.
Maryland is one of nine states that has no regulations for crematories, although the state does monitor their emissions.
Delegate Joan Cadden, Anne Arundel County Democrat, has introduced a bill that proposes regulating Maryland's crematories, and the measure has received a big boost from the scandal in Georgia.
The Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) conducts yearly inspections of each crematory in Maryland, MDE spokesman Herb Jansen said. But they are only looking for "any visible emissions or odors" the MDE's inspections are not intended to prevent abuses like the ones in Georgia, Mr. Jansen said.
"We strictly inspect the crematory unit itself. Our inspections are limited to air quality," he said.
Mrs. Cadden's bill would require crematories and their operators to obtain permits and to register with the Office of Cemetery Oversight. Specific requirements and regulations like this do not now exist in Maryland, except for crematories associated with cemeteries.
The legislation was defeated in the Senate a year ago after passing in the House. It was killed in the Senate again this year, but Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat, cross-filed the measure, and Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has expressed interest in it.
"What has happened in Georgia should give this bill an excellent chance of success," Mrs. Cadden said.
At the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia, 206 bodies have been found so far, and authorities say the number could reach 300. The operator remains in jail, charged with 16 counts of theft by deception for reputedly taking payment for cremations he never performed.
Mrs. Cadden said the Georgia scandal has many people wanting reassurance that nothing similar will happen in Maryland.
Cremation has become increasingly popular across the nation, many times because it is significantly cheaper than a traditional burial. Cremation prices range from around $1,000 to $5,000, while traditional burial can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, said Thomas Chambers, owner of Chambers Funeral Homes in Landover.
"We've been receiving calls asking what can be done to prevent what happened in Georgia. Well, Bill 326 does that," Mrs. Cadden said. "With no regulations, who's to say what could happen in Maryland?"
Crematory owners and spokesmen said that what happened in Georgia could never happen in Maryland. "This general perspective that all we have to comply with is the air quality standards may be true under the law, but not in practical terms," said Alan Sea, spokesman for the Chesapeake Crematory.
He said the MDE has always brought the health inspector along on inspections of Chesapeake's crematories, even though Mr. Jansen of the MDE said he could not recall such an arrangement.
"There's simply no way you could pretend to be performing all those cremations and get away with not doing them," Mr. Sea said.
Still, he welcomed Mrs. Cadden's legislation. "We have no problem if they want to pass that," he said.
But Mr. Chambers said the MDE inspections are sufficient regulation.
"What do they want to see? That I can put a body into an oven and fire up the furnace? That's ridiculous," he said. "To have somebody less intelligent and less experienced than me come in and tell me how to do my job? I've been doing this since 1983."
Mr. Chambers objects to the bill because he thinks larger corporations with political ties might push regulations that could drive him out of business.
Mrs. Cadden, however, said it would do nothing of the sort.
"The bill is as business friendly as it is consumer friendly," she said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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