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Warning: Cremation and Unintended Consequences

There could be hazards from what’s left behind when you pass on.

In a bizarre bit of research, scientists have written about the real hazards that may await you – or your loved ones – after you pass on. Yes, just when you think you’ve gone to your heavenly reward, something from your past could haunt you – or blow you and others to kingdom come, literally.

The researchers found that there may be hidden hazards when you die, particularly if your choice for the disposal of your remains is cremation.

Researchers in England actually published a study in 2002 detailing the first crematorium pacemaker explosion in 1976. That’s right, someone who had previously had a pacemaker inserted passed on and had chosen to be cremated. Unknown to anyone at the funeral parlor, the explosion took everyone by surprise, to say the least.

Never Know What You’ll Find

Since then researchers have found the number and variety of metal and plastic objects implanted in patients have increased steadily. Objects like joint prostheses, nails and splints for fractured bones, heart valves, and cardiac pacemakers have all shown up – or blown up – when someone leaves his or her mortal coil.

At one time long ago pacemakers were occasionally removed after someone passed away, often for later use because it was cost effective. Today, although reuse is not common, in many countries, say the researchers, when a patient with a prosthesis dies no attempt is made to recover it.

In the 1976 episode, the mercury zinc batteries in a pacemaker left in a body exploded during cremation. The blast was powerful enough to damage the brickwork lining of the cremation chamber. The strength of the explosion had possibly been increased by the presence of hydrogen produced in the nearly exhausted batteries. In the course of their duties those working at the crematorium periodically observe the process of cremation, and an explosion on this scale could cause injuries or even death, warned the researchers. In addition an explosion could release toxic gases or even infectious material from the corpse.

The Cremation Test

Lithium batteries may have replaced zinc mercury batteries in pacemakers, and when heated to a high temperature these are even more explosive. Moreover, since 1970 pacemakers powered by plutonium-238 have been tested clinically. These contain up to 3 Ci of the isotope so patients have been closely supervised and these pacemakers are removed after death.

It takes about one hour at 800° C to cremate a body, and the latest models of plutonium pacemaker now must pass a very stringent “cremation test” of withstanding 1300 C for 11 hours. This should ensure that they could not leak during cremation.

If all this disturbs you, perhaps you may want to invite the local fire department to the funeral.

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User Comments
  1. Kharla Jolly

    On April 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    What in the world will happen next? Thanks for sharing, nice job.

  2. lauralu

    On April 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Yes Cowboy this can happen when i worked in pallative care as a Nurse when a person with a pacemaker died we had to phone a special person to come and remove it but does could often be overlooked because of change of shift and human error.
    Good article

  3. A05031992

    On April 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    thanks for sharing brother :D

  4. Payge

    On April 27, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Then I hope I have none of these said objects when I die and get cremated.

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