Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Crematorium Location: The Dead that Keep on Killing

Another irresistible news item that has good economic insights related to the age old problem of NIMBYism. It should be simple enough to find a market solution to the problem of where to locate crematoriums. It is also impressive how the collective action of local communities can block the development of perceived "pollution intensive industries"....

One might even suggest that money invested in a public health message to "clean teeth" would have a long term beneficial effect over and above the utility gained from not have to sit in a chair while someone in a white coat attacks you with a drill.

Notoriously, UK citizens are famed for their poor teeth relative to the average US citizen (or is that just a myth) - if true then the problem may be a lot more severe for us in the UK. We deserve to be told.

Communities Fight Crematorium Expansion
RICHMOND, Calif. -- Plans to build new crematoriums are running into resistance around the country over a fear some scientists say is overblown: toxic emissions, especially mercury fumes from incinerating dental fillings.

Silver fillings contain mercury, a substance that can harm brain development in children. Mercury from industrial plants has found its way into rivers, lakes and oceans, tainting many types of seafood.

"You're burning bodies, and the emissions are going up into the air," said community leader Johnny White. "They can put it somewhere else, away from where people live."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates crematoriums emit 320 pounds of mercury per year, while activists say the real figure could be as high as three tons.

Now for some great 101 Economics - it is all about supply and demand. The supply of dead bodies is outstripping supply of processing space.
Just 6 percent of Americans were cremated in 1975. By 2004, 31 percent -- or 741,000 people -- chose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. California leads the country with 122,000 cremations performed in 2004.

People are choosing cremation because it is less expensive and is perceived as more eco-friendly, since land is not used for burial, industry officials say.

The soaring popularity of cremation is driving demand for more crematoriums. There are currently more than 1,800 in the U.S., and about 200 new ones are built each year.

You couldn't make it up:
The Neptune Society of Northern California ran into unexpectedly fierce opposition in Richmond when it proposed a crematorium that would incinerate more than 3,000 bodies a year within two blocks of a daycare center and children's park. Facing protesters carrying banners reading "Over my dead body," the City Council voted in July to deny the necessary zoning change.

The result is the chilling conclusion:
"When the current generation of baby boomers passes away, we're the ones that are going to put the most mercury in the atmosphere," said John Reindl, a recycling manager in Dane County, Wis., who has researched the issue. "Now's the time when we really need to handle this issue."

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