Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shades of Green

Richard A Santore
Practicum Strategies

We should be concerned with our environment!

Green happens to be my favorite color. I drink Green Tea, love the Green Bay Packers, Green Acres re-runs on TV and as a kid, I read Green Lantern Comic Books, and I recycle, but, Kermit the Frog said it best, “It’s not easy being green”. The problem is being Green can also be expensive. There are people out there that seem to go out of there way to take my concern for the environment as an opportunity to over charge for Green Products because apparently they feel I should pay a premium to be green. Green insulation, made from recycled denim and cotton (cellulose) for my home costs twice as much as the old fashion fiberglass kind which by the way replaced the practice of stuffing walls with crumpled newspaper (cellulose) in the early part of the 20th Century. You are also being encouraged to go back to cotton diapers to cover the baby’s bottom because the new kind has a plastic liner and formaldehyde is used in the production of the absorbent paper part of that diaper as well as the plastic liner. What you’re not being told is the amount of energy consumed to manufacture and clean the old fashion cotton kind out weighs the negative effects and convenience of picking up a package of diapers at the supermarket.

It is pretty much accepted that burning fossil fuel is bad for the environment but don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking our need for petroleum is going to go away with the coming of alternative fuel sources to power your car or heat your home. Petroleum is used in the manufacture of numerous products, mostly plastics.

Something else that isn’t going away anytime soon is formaldehyde. As a funeral director you have come to equate formaldehyde with embalming. The fact is the production of formaldehyde based resins accounts for a good portion of formaldehyde consumption. It is a component in polyurethane paints and is used in the manufacture of explosives. The textile industry uses formaldehyde-based resins as finishers to make fabrics crease-resistant. It is used in the manufacture of adhesives. It has been found is outer space. Simply put formaldehyde is here to stay; we just need to understand that we are dealing with a potentially dangerous chemical compound and need to use care and restraint; while taking advantage of its benefits.

The point of all this is, there are Shades of Green. And there are people and groups that will distort facts and spread fear for their own personal gain. I could go on sighting examples of Shades of Green but I am specifically concerned with the funeral industry and the emergence of Green Funerals. Am I against Green Funerals? No! Am I against Green Cemeteries? No! Am I against marketers that would spread fear to unsuspecting funeral directors and their clients? YES! Am I against consultants that profess to have all the answers so they can charge hefty fees? YES!

Let’s look at the facts. The green burial movement is protesting the use of formaldehyde, which oxidizes to formic acid, the toxin in red and fire ants, adding what may be considered pollution to the ground as embalmed bodies decay. The EPA, along with the Green Chemistry Program, promotes the research, development, and implementation of innovative chemical technologies to support chemical technologies that reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous substances during the design, manufacture, and use of chemical products and processes. But the greening of chemistry is a slow shift, not a revolution. Most chemists lack basic training in understanding environmental hazards while seeking safer solutions.

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 established a national policy to prevent or reduce pollution at its source whenever feasible, and provided an opportunity to expand beyond traditional EPA programs and devise creative strategies to protect human health and the environment. Green chemistry is the use of chemistry for pollution prevention. More specifically, green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

Shortly after the passage of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) explored the idea of developing new or improving existing chemical products and processes to make them less hazardous to human health and the environment. In 1991, OPPT launched the "Alternative Synthetic Pathways for Pollution Prevention. to research projects that include pollution prevention in the design and synthesis of chemicals.

Utilizing this Green Chemistry Philosophy, the body is prepared without chemical preservatives or with environmentally friendly chemicals and buried in a biodegradable casket or simple shroud. A natural burial preserve often uses grave markers that do not intrude on the landscape such as shrubs and trees, or a flat indigenous stone upon which can be some engraving.

Planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers on or near the grave establishes a living memorial and helps form a protected wildlife preserve. Irrigation is not used, nor are chemical pesticides and herbicides applied. Irrigation by the way prevents soil erosion which can cause ecological damage. Cemetery legislation protects natural burial preserves in perpetuity from future development while the establishment of a conservation easement prevents future owners from altering the original intent for these burial grounds. For people who are mindful of the cyclical nature of life, a natural burial is an alternative to conventional burial methods. However, the truth be told, the Green Chemistry Philosophy can be applied to every existing cemetery.

The Green Burial Consil offers the following statistics to justify their existence while also promoting and certifying other Green Burial Products.

Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:
30 million board feet of hardwood used to make caskets
90,272 tons of steel used to make caskets
14,000 tons of steel to make vaults
2,700 tons of copper and bronze to make caskets
1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete to make vaults
827.060 gallons of embalming fluid, principally formaldehyde

The fact is I have problems with these statistics!

The Green Burial Consil claims there are 22,500 cemeteries in the United States. Since I have no desire to try to count them, I’ll accept their number as correct; but I find myself wondering, are these all active cemeteries or are many old church yard, inactive cemeteries. Let’s assume The Green Burial Consil did their homework and each is an active cemetery.

The casket Manufacturers Association estimates that last year there were 1,771,845 casketed human remains. Assuming that the Green Burial Consil figure of 30 million board feet of hardwood was used in their manufacture; that would only amount to 200,000 caskets. Or 11.3 % of all caskets manufactured. But this is an unverified statement so the actual amount of hardwood used could be substantially less. The Casket Manufacturers Association also doesn’t differentiate between those casketed remains being buried or cremated so I will assume all are buried. Bear in mind that currently the cremation rate nationally is close to 40% and the projected rate of cremation by 2025 will exceed 50%. So, by my assuming all casketed remains are being buried I am being very generous.

The Green Burial Consil claims that 90,272 tons of steel was used to manufacture caskets. This would mean that 1,031,680 steel caskets were buried. But this number as well as the numbers for steel vaults, and copper and bronze caskets is unimportant as these products are manufactured from minerals that are found naturally in the ground.

Likewise the same can be said for concrete vaults; concrete vaults are manufactured from earth friendly materials; sand, gravel, and cement. Concrete solidifies and hardens after mixed with water. The water reacts with the cement, which bonds the other components together, eventually creating a stone-like material. Concrete is used to make pavements, building foundations, roadways, and building blocks Concrete is used more than any other man-made material in the world. As of 2006, about 10 billion cubic yards of concrete are made each year. More than 55,000 miles highways in the United States are paved with reinforced concrete. Only about ½ a cubic yard of concrete is used to manufacture a vault. So I fail to see the significance of mentioning this earth friendly material; unless it is to state that a concrete vault will keep a grave from settling thus requiring less maintenance of a grave site or to protect harsh chemicals (formaldehyde) from seeping into the ground

So, now we are down to the only true potentially harmful material, Embalming fluid.

Allow me to assume that 1 pint, 16 ounces of concentrated formaldehyde mixed with water is used to make two gallons of embalming solution, and 1 pint, 16 ounces of concentrate is used for cavity treatment. That means 118,151 gallons of concentrated formaldehyde can potentially be harmful to ground water. But we need to factor in that earth friendly material (concrete) that will prevent that seepage. Now let us assume that only 25% of all casketed burials are also placed in a concrete vault. That means that the risk of ground water being polluted is also reduced by 25% or 29,538 gallons leaving 88,613 gallons of concentrate. Now going back to the 22,500 active cemeteries and divide that concentrate equally between them you now have 4 gallons of formaldehyde that can contaminate the ground water under each cemetery. Assume that each cemetery is approximately 25 acres the result is, you have approximately 20 ounces of formaldehyde contaminating each acre. I contacted the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to determine if this was within acceptable limits. It is!

In the final analysis; if your client wants Green Burial you should comply with their wishes, because you are there to serve. Just be sure you clearly express the facts and they are not being motivated by fear. Fear that they are harming our environment by having their loved one embalmed, placed in a metal casket and a concrete vault. They are not.

Cemeteries are not restricted to using only chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. There are many organic or natural, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, available. The point is you can have a Green Cemetery and still have the lush rolling lawns and a park like setting.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where have all the bodies gone? War

Richard A. Santore
Practicum Strategies

Well to begin with people are living longer. Today the average American can expect to live to anywhere between 77.5 and 80 years. But, don’t think you can take these numbers to the bank. This statistic includes all deaths; accidents, wars, what ever you like. The statistic doesn’t lie; it just doesn’t exclude rick factors. And, you can’t say “natural causes” because all that means is death was caused by a natural disease process. This same statistic also doesn’t take in account “preventable death”. More and more of us have given up smoking, so assumably this will increase how long we live, but we are eating more and obesity is going to shorten our life expectancy. So let’s hold the concept that the statistics are right on the money and the average American is going to die between 77.5 and 80 years old.

Here’s where all the statistics really get fuzzy, fuzzy because the statistics for 1930 show the average American would live between 59.7 and 61.6 years. What’s so great about 1930? Well if you were born in 1930 or there about you should be dying today and you’re not. So now we just threw that statistic out the window and we need to ask why; why aren’t you dying? Simply put, you were never born, that’s right you were never born.

You see, what happened is this: There was the “Big One”, the war to end all wars between 1917 and 1919 for us here in the U.S. It was a little longer in Europe. Then in 1941 through 1945 we were back at it with the second war to end all wars. It’s a funny thing about wars, they never want “old men” to fight, I guess they figure we’re smart enough not to want to be brave and die a hero’s death so they only take our young men who see them selves as invincible. The total number of U.S. Military deaths during WWII was 504,956.

Talk about population control! Had we not given away all those lives needlessly and each one of those who died fathered 2 children there would be and additional 1,000,000. Americans. Then factor in 4 generation, consider each of those generations doubling, So, without attempting to do the math let’s just accept the fact, there would ne a lot more people

Then to add insult to injury add the lives lost during the Korean Conflict, because it was never classified a war; (this I never understood; guns were shot, bombs were dropped, young men died, sounds like a war to me).Then Vietnam!

Trust me when I say; a year has not gone by that US Military Personal, our fathers, sons, and brothers, didn’t lose their lives on some God forsaken pieces of land somewhere in this world.

Where have all the bodies gone? We keep giving away American lives, and for what purpose, I don’t know. Do you?

But, I’m not done. In 1918 there was an Influenza Pandemic that ravaged the world. It is estimated that 1/3 of our world population died. It is also estimated that between 500,000 and 675,000 Americans died. The funny thing about this Pandemic is it didn’t kill the very young or the old as is usually the case because both of these groups don’t have healthy, strong immune systems. It seemed to have only attacked young healthy adults.

Let me go back to the war issue because this is important to understand. Between the Civil War and that first “War To End All Wars” the military must have been on sabbatical because we had only 7,779 US Military deaths.

Now let’s try to piece this altogether so it makes some sense.

Anyone born between 1865 and 1900 could expect to live 60 years. So, if you were born says, between 1880 and 1900, you could be considered too old fight and too old to die from influenza which means you would be dying in the 1940’s. It is also important to remember that there was no mandatory draft during WWI so your birth year could be pushed up to say 1910, meaning that you escaped WWI and the flu and also WWII, and very likely you would live into the 1960’, 70’s and 80’s. Bottom line is a lot of people were dying between 1940 and 1960 and then it gradually began to slow down during the 70’s an 80’s, all of which is well within the range of the life expectancy for that period in time.

With the lost lives caused by the Influenza (over a half million and the U.S. death toll during WWI a lot less people were born hence fewer people were dying by the 1980’s. and these numbers are going to continue spiraling down. Now, if you’re attempting to do the math be sure to factor in the 4 generations mentions above. Also you need to bear in mind that none of this includes Military deaths from WWII to the present, which is over one half million.

Where does this put the death rate? It’s going to continue its downward spiral well into the 21st Century.

Where have all the bodies gone? We keep giving away the lives of those we hold so precious, our children.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Asia Expo! WHY!

If you’re against foreign trade; you shouldn’t read this article. Trade with foreign countries is a good thing.

Coffee has never been grown successfully in North America nor has tea. These two products are always imported. I mention these only because everyone is familiar with both. But the truth be known there are numerous other products that we can’t produce ourselves or of the same quality as the foreign variety; Irish Wool and Turkish Mohair just to name a couple. Or, at least that it what we the consumer, is lead to believe by importers and distributers. Champagne only comes from the Champagne Region of France. We produce some very excellent sparkling wines but none the less if you’re looking for a bottle of Champagne, it has to come from France. And, if you want an overpriced automobile import; it can only come from Italy or Germany. That aside, American Auto Makers produce some of finest quality automobiles in the world; even allowing for the fact that GM is in very serious trouble that you, if you’re driving a foreign import has contributed too.

Before I go too far afield I had better point out that virtually every product we import into America can be produced right here. So, why are we importing these products? Because, over the last decade we have had “Global Economy” stuffed down our throats until we are blue in the face. The fact of the matter is “Global Economy” is hurting the American Economy. Worse yet, while we are being fed the line that we can save money we are actually paying more. American unemployment has been steadily on the rise with no end in sight while “Third World” countries are taking over our job markets. And, if you don’t think this is hurting your pocketbook, think again.

For the past 20 years American Manufacturers have been outsourcing American jobs. Open the back of your Cell Phone, Computer or Television; each and everyone is manufactured in Asia. Virtually all the clothes you wear are imports, mostly from Asia. All this is going on at the expense of the American middle class. I wonder; do we still have a middle class for surely we are being reduced to the poor and the very poor?

Think about this as you’re walking through the local Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or Target.
Yes, you’re there because it’s convenient; everything is under one roof, but, how many merchants are no longer in business or maybe scratching at the crumbs while these “superstores” are stocked with foreign made products; which they buy by the trailer load, container load or ship load at reduced prices, due to volume buying. While I really can’t fault the practice of volume buying because it is capitalism in its highest form, it is hurting our country, because very often they are seeking out foreign manufacturers and saying, “make me 10 container loads of (what-ever) and I’ll pay for it at the dock” and American Manufacturers are being left out in the cold. I should also add our Congress has encouraged this practice by making deals with foreign countries with reduced import duties, and import taxes. If you think I’m making this up consider how NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has affected us.

What does this have to do with funeral service? Well!! A long time ago, 1963 to be exact, a lady by the name of Jessica Mitford wrote a book; The American Way of Death. It was written as an expose of the American Funeral Industry and became a bestseller. Mostly, I believe, because every funeral director bought a copy to see what truths Ms. Mitford was distorting at our expense. Well, the content aside, the title of the book was certainly catchy and true. The way we care for and treat our loved ones is uniquely American.

Now almost 50 years after the book was written and a decade or so after they started pushing “Global Economy” down our throats the National Funeral Directors Association has apparently jumped on both bandwagons by co-hosting the Asia Expo. The simple truth is American Casket Manufacturers will suffer with the importation of caskets manufactured in Asia. The American Funeral Supply Trade will suffer. And, ultimately so will you.

I could be wrong, but if NFDA is truly as their website states: “the world's leading funeral service association, serving 19,000 individual members and more than 10,000 funeral homes in the United States and internationally (mostly in Canada), and informs, educates and advocates helping members enhance the quality of service they provide to families”, you would think that the attendees at the 2009 Asia Expo would have wanted to come here and attend NFDA’s annual convention where they can learn.

NFDA also states that funeral service is a global enterprise. I could be wrong but, “enterprise” in my mind means a business venture and if this is the case I can’t see how an Asia Expo can benefit the American Funeral Director. The basic philosophy of funeral service has always been: “Neighbors helping Neighbors”. While the simple black and white of this philosophy may have become grayed with the founding of corporate owned funeral service in our country, even corporate owned funeral service holds to this principal in each of the locations. Their managers are encouraged to be active in their local communities.

Again, I could be wrong but, if NFDA truly wants to help its membership, your membership dollars should be used here at home rather than helping entities that could presumably have a negative effect on the American Funeral Industry. One way they can do this is; rather than co-hosting an event half way around the world, is to use that money it will cost them as Co-Host of this expo to reduce registration fees and membership fees so more American Funeral Professionals can afford to attend their Annual Convention. Assist State Associations that are struggling to have State Conventions by Co-Sponsoring regional conventions that would help the States involved and make things more affordable to suppliers who are finding it harder and harder to participate in State conventions due to spiraling costs. This would go a long way to advance funeral service here at home. NFDA needs to slow down and acknowledge the fact that they are in existence to serve funeral professionals here at home, not to be served by them and squander their dues money on the other side of the world.

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