CONCORD, New Hampshire — The New Hampshire Senate rejected a proposal Thursday to legalize a chemical cremation process that dissolves human remains into a soapy liquid, citing fears that the byproduct could enter the groundwater if not disposed of properly.
The Senate voted 16-8 against a House-passed bill that would have legalized a process known as alkaline hydrolysis. It uses lye, 300-degree heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to dissolve bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders. It breaks down the body's proteins into a dark brown liquid with the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell, leaving behind bone fragments. Those fragments are then powdered, using the same method as fire cremation, and can be returned to the deceased's family.
The process is hailed by those in the burgeoning green burial movement as an environmentally friendly alternative to fire cremation because the byproduct is a sterile liquid that can be disposed of in existing wastewater facilities. The process also uses less fossil fuels and produces carbon emissions.
The byproduct would need to be pumped from storage units at mortuary facilities and transported by truck to wastewater treatment facilities. Concerns that that byproduct, though sterile and devoid of human DNA, may end up in the groundwater when it's being disposed of was enough to give the majority of senators pause.
New Hampshire residents who wish to have the final disposition of their remains done by chemical cremation can have them sent to Maine, where the process is legal and facilities already exist.