Jan 21, 2024
By Reuters Fact Check 7 Min Read Alkaline hydrolysis is a form of flameless
By Reuters Fact Check
7 Min Read
Alkaline hydrolysis is a form of flameless cremation where a human body can be liquified and turned into wastewater after death. An online video on alkaline hydrolysis is spurring claims that human remains are being fed to the public, but experts say this is misleading: water is sterilized and passed through wastewater treatment facilities before entering home water systems.
An alkaline hydrolysis machine is used to perform a "bio-cremation," (also known as aquamation or water cremation) (here). It is currently legal in 28 states, though not all of these states have the technology to perform it (here).
A video online focuses on a man showing an alkaine hydrolysis machine with an unidentified narrator claiming that humans are "drinking dead people and they don't even know it," and that the bones are used in consumable products like vitamins. "THE DEAD ARE LIQUIFIED AND ARE FED TO THE LIVING," say the social media posts (here), (here).
The footage stems from a 2017 Wired interview with Dean Fisher, the previous director of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Donated Body Program at the David Geffen School of Medicine (here) (here), (here). The video shows Fisher explaining how the alkaline hydrolysis machine called the Resomator works.
Experts told Reuters that the liquid resulting from this process is thoroughly tested and is safe for disposal, there is no DNA present in the liquid, and it is sterilized before entering water treatment facilities. The water would reach households after being treated in these facilities.
Funeral homes began adopting the alkaline hydrolysis process around 2010, though it began in the early 1990s for animal remains in medical and veterinary research, Jessica Koth, public relations director at the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) told Reuters via email.
The Resomator uses 5% potassium in liquid form and 95% water to generate an accelerated chemical reaction emulating what happens when bodies are buried in the Earth's crust, which has 2% potassium, Fisher told Reuters via phone. That mixture is moved around the body "much like what a whirlpool does" for four hours, and it "slowly breaks the soft tissue off of a body, leaving the bone."
Bio-cremation is more eco-friendly than standard cremation, according to past Reuters reporting (here) and (here).
The process is "less violent than what flame cremation is," Fisher said, and the resulting carbon footprint "is a fourth of what [standard] cremation has."
The effluent, or liquid waste, that results from alkaline hydrolysis is sterilized and left without any trace of DNA before it is sent to water systems. "It's better than what you and I are putting down our toilets every day and down into the waste stream," Fisher said.
He added that the process is similar to California's wastewater recycling process, called "toilet-to-tap" by some (here). "People thought they were drinking their toilet water," he said, but "there's recycling in between so that the water is safe to drink."
Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), told Reuters via email that it is not possible for the public to unknowingly consume liquified humans. She said the sterile effluent is released into the wastewater system and intermingles with "rain water, sewage, etc. before being processed at a wastewater treatment center," and "only then would the water be available to households."
The remaining fluid includes "nothing that could even be classified as human," and the liquid is safe to dispose of in municipal sewer systems, Koth added.
"The bones that remain at the end of the process are indeed pulverized," Koth said, but are given to the bereaved "much like the pulverized bones (cremated remains) are given to families after traditional flame-based cremation."
Reuters found no immediate evidence this material would be sold to those making food supplements.
Koth does not believe any funeral home "would risk the legal liability of selling or giving cremated remains to someone who could not prove" relation to the decedent.
Kemmis also said she cannot imagine "any way the bone fragments could get into food or supplements."
Funeral establishments and crematories are regulated at state and local levels, and any funeral establishment providing alkaline hydrolysis would need a business license, zoning approval and approval from the wastewater treatment authorities, Kemmis said.
The NFDA's model guidelines for states to base laws governing alkaline hydrolysis can be seen (here).
In Washington, for example, where alkaline hydrolysis is legal, the public water systems that carry drinking water are regulated by the state's health department, Laura Fricke, Water Quality Permitting Specialist at the Washington State Department of Ecology told Reuters via email (here).
The wastewater treatment plant "samples the incoming (dirty) water and cleaned water going out (effluent)," which is subject to strict limits on "organic materials, bacteria, and toxic substances" to meet water quality standards, she said.
Misleading. Experts say liquid from alkaline hydrolysis is sterilized with no trace of human DNA and is then treated at water treatment facilities before entering common households.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts (here).
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.