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Latest News

Embalming fluid ban may change funerals

Wells Funeral Services


Grieving loved ones may no longer be able to pay their last respects to dead relatives when the EU bans the chemical in embalming fluid. That is the fear of Britain's funeral directors after MEPs voted to restrict the use of formaldehyde.

The EU says it will protect workers' health and save lives. And - in a concession secured by a Conservative MEP - it has delayed the ban on the substance for three years to allow the industry to adjust.

If the UK remains in the EU single market for 21 months after it officially leaves on 29 March, as is currently planned, then the government would be expected to transpose the directive into UK law within a strict time limit.

The Health and Safety Executive said it would welcome any measures to help controls but is trying to get more time for the funeral industry to adjust.

A HSE spokesman said: "This is not a ban on formaldehyde. The European Commission has proposed formalising exposure limits. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen that requires close regulation, which the funeral sector has always taken into account. As is the current case, it will still be used in a controlled manner. As a responsible regulator we have always worked closely with the funeral industry to understand its particular needs. This has informed our discussions at EU level. Our dialogue with the sector on the proposed limits will continue whatever the terms of our departure from the European Union."

The HSE said the three-year exemption period would come on top of the usual two-year implementation period for a new regulation to come into force, meaning it will not apply to the funeral sector for five years.

Funeral directors in the UK are concerned they will not be able to find a replacement for formaldehyde and that they will be faced with extra costs.

Formaldehyde, which can cause irritation and has been linked to nasopharyngeal cancer, is one of five industrial chemicals to be added to the European Commission's list of restricted carcinogens and mutagens.

The UK funeral industry says it recognises that formaldehyde, which is also used in hospitals and in a wide variety of industrial processes, has been linked to serious illnesses. But it argues that the chemical does not pose a significant risk to workers in the diluted form, known as formalin, used by embalmers.

And if an alternative to formalin cannot be found, then the "culture" around Christian burials and cremations in the UK, will have to change, with funeral directors advising more families against seeing their loved one in the coffin, although ultimately it is the family's choice whether to do so.

The embalming of bodies is prohibited in the Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is not forbidden in Hinduism but is rare because cremation normally takes place within 24 hours of death.

The funeral industry estimates between 50% and 55% of cadavers in the UK undergo some form of embalming so they can be viewed by relatives. The practice has become more prevalent in recent years because of the growing length of time between death and funeral, caused by delays in obtaining paperwork.