The Creamation Association of North America projects the rate of cremation of all US
deaths to approach 31 percent by the year 2010. Andrea Vittum is the president of White
Haven Memorial Park. She says the deceased will at times arrive in elaborate casket
VITTUM: It's also possible to place the body in, actually, a cardboard container. It's a
solid rigid container so that when the body is delivered to us, it is completely enclosed.
We never see the body here. If the person is to be laid out as they would be for a funeral
dressed in an appropriate manner, that's something that the family would request.
At White Haven, the container is placed into one of three ovens, called "retorts" in
VITTUM: They're a little bit larger than enough to hold a complete casket. There needs to
be a little air around it for combustion to take place. I think it's around 14 hundred
degrees and it takes a little while for that oven to fully come up to temperature and
down at the end. So the total process takes about four hours.
After cremation, material not part of the body is removed such as nails or latches
from the coffin or dental pieces and surgical pins.
VITTUM: Any kind of jewelry or dental gold would be melted down to an unrecognizeable
state, you'd never find it. Bones, teeth, pieces of metal are about all you can find that
you could recognize. So we always tell people if you leave somebody's wedding rings on,
don't expect that after cremation you're going to sift through the remains and find them.
They will not survive that heat.
The crematorium operator uses a rake-like implement to collect the ashes.
VITTUM: Right after cremation, there is still quite a lot of bone fragment left over.
There could be three to four inch pieces, large joints, ball joints and so forth. Most
crematories now throughout the country then do what is called "pulverizing" the remains.
There is a piece of equipment that takes what are fairly large recognizeable pieces of
bone and pulverizes them to ash.
Operator Doug Smith serves the public as an unofficial spokesperson for the industry.
SMITH: At first people react by backing off from me. But after they give it a thought for
a couple of minutes, I start to be the question and answer man at parties. So many people
are ignorant about death and the process and what goes on at a cemetary. People have more
of a curiosity- especially the funeral directors to see what goes on during the cremation
process- at least the first stages of it. And there are view ports in the chamber which
are necessary to make sure that the process is done. And they have even accompanied me to
those view ports to see just what does take place.
Cremated remains are trasferred to urns, which may be buried, stored above ground or
scattered as to the family's wishes. The ashes usually fill about a gallon sized-urn
container and weigh about three to nine pounds. And an extensive paper trail
follows the process for proper identification. Vittum says numerous federal and state
guidelines oversee the business. And the safety of employees is a vital issue.
VITTUM: All of our employees for instance are required to have hepatitis B vaccinations.
Hepatitus B is something that is extremely contagious and a virus that lives in the body
long after death if that body is not cremated. And sometimes we are required to remove a
body that's been in the ground for many years. Our understanding is that that body could
still have contagious hepatitis B- after those many years that virus could still be alive.
Cremation at White Haven Memorial Park. Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.