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Stephenville funeral home says crematorium smoke is not from human remains

This was the scene that greeted Stephenville resident Diane Chubbs earlier this week.
This was the scene that greeted Stephenville resident Diane Chubbs earlier this week.

The owner of a crematorium in Stephenville says there should be no cause for concern about smoke coming from the facility’s stack.

Earlier this week, Diane Chubbs posted a video of thick black smoke emanating from the crematorium operated by Russell’s Funeral Home on Prince Rupert Drive.

Chubbs lives in an apartment building located behind the funeral home. In the video, the wind is blowing the smoke back towards and to the right of her home.

At one point in the 83-second clip, she comments about how bad the smell is.

She said the smoke is more than bothersome when the wind blows a certain direction. It smells terrible and leaves black soot on her windows, she charged.

“It’s a unique smell and it’s obvious it’s not coming from a backyard fire or anything like that,” she said. “It smells like death.”

Having had a loved one who was cremated, she can’t help but think what she’s smelling is the burning of a human body.

“It’s depressing,” she said. “I don’t think these things should be located in the middle of town. It should be hidden from view.”

Keith Russell, co-owner of the funeral home, said the smoke is most definitely not from the human remains being cremated.

Most people who are cremated, he explained, are usually done so in a cardboard container. The cremation unit has special afterburners that take care of any emissions from the burning of the body itself and keep them from entering the atmosphere.

Occasionally — though not often, he continued, the unit is not hot enough when the body is placed in it and prematurely burns off the cardboard because of that material’s relatively low flashpoint. When that happens, it creates a plume of black smoke for about 30 seconds to one minute.

Russell said the emission controls always kick in before the remains start to burn and the smoke is never from anything other than the cardboard.

He disagreed with Chubbs, who said the smoke and smell sometimes lasted for half an hour.

“There are more emissions from a car than from our crematorium,” said Russell.

The funeral home operator said he would gladly meet with area residents to explain the cremation process and any issues with them, but he has not heard from them directly about these concerns.

He has heard from the Town of Stephenville, which was asked to look into the emissions by the neighbourhood’s residents. Russell has invited town officials to check out what happened during a cremation and, so far as he knows, the town representatives seemed fine with how things were operating.

Mayor Tom O’Brien says he and other town officials have been at the location on several occasions to observe the cremation process. He said he never saw any black smoke on either of these occasions.

While the town doesn’t have any issue with the operation at this point, O’Brien said the municipality has requested a copy of the results from the next time regular maintenance and air quality testing is done at the crematorium.

Russell said if there were any health concerns or any problems with the cremation unit at his funeral home, cremations would be ceased until the problems could be rectified.

Ironically, the City of Corner Brook is about to deal with an application for a permit by Country Haven Funeral Home for a crematorium in a residential neighbourhood at its public meeting Monday. A vote on the application last month resulted in a tie with three councilors for the proposals, three against it and Mayor Charles Pender abstaining because of a possible conflict of interest.

In a story about that vote, the Saltwire Network reported Newfoundland and Labrador has no emissions standards for crematoriums specifically and that the unit proposed by Country Haven would have emissions levels lower than the general standards the province does have.

Related stories:

Tied Corner Brook city council vote puts Country Haven’s crematorium plans on hold

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