TT’s water supply may be at risk from high levels of nitrates from improper disposal of cremated bodies.
Keith Belgrove, CEO of Belgrove’s Funeral Home shared his concerns with Newsday during an interview about shortage of burial spaces across the country.
Newsday first highlighted the issue of shortage of space in cemeteries in a July 27 article, No Room for the Dead, following the closure of two cemeteries in Tunapuna.
Belgrove also called on the regional corporations to regulate and monitor how pyres at cremation sites are built.
He said although more crematoriums were introduced to support the needs of TT, he stressed that open-air pyres at cremation sites must be monitored properly.
“Due to the competitive nature of funeral services in the country, the pyre is getting smaller and smaller which means human remains are not properly cremated or burnt off and the next morning they are shovelled into the Gulf of Paria or near-by rivers.
“The corporations need to pay attention to these matters especially in places like Mosquito Creek and around the country in the five locations (traditional cremation sites) in order to have complete cremation.”
“I believe a couple of years ago a review was completed and the nitrate in the water table was extremely high almost to the international standards because of the wrong method used to dispose of unclaimed ashes and the over use of cemeteries.”
Belgrove also said it is absolutely necessary for the government to open two new cemeteries which can accommodate burials for the next 40 to 50 years.
He said the traditional cremation sites include one in central Trinidad and Mayaro, located on river banks, and the Mosquito Creek and Waterloo cremation site which are located at the seaside.
Belgrove said 70 per cent of dead bodies in TT are cremated with the other 30 per cent are buried. Even this, he said has reduced drastically.
“There is always a demand for burial spaces. Internationally, cremation is the choice for the disposal for dead one and I expect the 70 per cent over the next few years to grow to 80 to 90 per cent. Therefore, there will always be a need for burial spaces.”
Asked when was the last research on nitrate levels in the water courses conducted, Environment and Management Authority’s chairman Nadra Nathai-Gyan said the EMA collected data over the period November, 2016 to October, 2017, in the Arima and Courland Watersheds and the results indicated that nitrate levels were below the 10/mg/L limit in the two watersheds.
The EMA said the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted a standard of 10 mg/L as the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate-nitrogen in regulated public water systems. This is based on World Health Organisation guidelines for drinking water. The EMA does not have specific conditions for disposal of ashes in Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CECs), since most people claim the ashes after cremation.
However, there are conditions regarding the proper disposal of dental amalgams, prosthetics and for monitoring and reporting of air emissions from stacks.
The authority said the primary health hazard from drinking water with nitrate-nitrogen occurs when nitrate is transformed to nitrite in the digestive system.
The EMA said this health concern is primarily related to potential exposure through consumption by infants.
When contacted, Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein said he was not aware of the situation and it was not bought to his attention by anybody, including the chairmen of the various regional corporations.
“Once I get an update on it, I will be able to respond but as for today I am now hearing about this issue. Two months ago, I met with all the heads of the funeral homes and it was not bought to my attention then, so I will have to ask for a report on the matter.”