ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners say more needs to be done to cut fumes from cremations which can produce as much harmful pollution as a car driving twice the length of the UK.

Around 95 per cent of coffins used in cremations are made from chipboard/MDF and funerals using these types of coffins produce the same amount of NOx gas as a car driving 2,280 miles or 3,650 cars driving past the crematorium during the course of a cremation - according to industry magazine Pharos.

Facultatieve Technologies, which supplies the majority of the UK's cremators, is developing technology to reduce NOx gases (nitrogen oxides) - which are a major factor in poor urban air quality.

But this is only in place in a handful of the 307 crematoria across England, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – Freedom of Information responses made to Newsquest’s Data Investigations Unit have revealed.

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Eco-minded industry figures say the problem has been kept under the radar and Green Party members believe councils across the country and the Government should do more to make cremations greener after the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency last May.

A spokesman for the Green Party said: "We're very concerned about NOx pollution.

"We're in no doubt that cremations are contributing to this problem.

"Bereaved families should be equipped with the information they need to make more environmentally-friendly choices when saying goodbye to a loved one.

"Ironically, people with stoves and log burners are advised against burning chipboard due to the toxic fumes it produces, yet this is precisely what is happening with funerals as the majority of coffins cremated are made of chipboard.

“We shouldn't let the taboo around death prevent us from addressing environmental concerns."

Funeral industry stalwart Steven Tapper said deciding to fit the pollution-reducing technology at the family firm’s Harbour View Crematorium near Poole was the easiest decision he has ever made; and he said the cremation industry “has been burying its head in the sand”.

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Mr Tapper, director of Tapper Funeral Service, told Newsquest: “The cremation industry has kept itself under the radar.

“The same filtration systems are available for crematoriums as for a car engine.

“We’ve got a NOx filter at our crematorium – Harbour View. They cost around £30,000 and whilst that’s a lot of money – it’s not a lot in relative terms to the cost of a cremator or crematorium. In relative terms - it’s small change.

“I don’t want to be breathing in NOx, I don’t want colleagues and friends breathing it in and I certainly don’t want my clients breathing it in.

“It was one of the quickest and easiest decisions my brother and I ever made.

“There’s really not any excuse for not having them.

“The whole cremation industry has been burying its head in the sand.”

In 2018, 78 per cent of UK deaths resulted in cremations (481,712 in total) figures published by The Cremation Society show – compared to 51 per cent 50 years earlier in 1968, when there were 327,901 cremations, and less than 1 per cent 100 years earlier in 1918, when there were just 1,795 cremations.

Despite the huge rise in cremations and concerns about the NOx emissions they produce – only a few crematoria out of the 307 nationwide are confirmed to have deNOx technology at present.

Privately-run Harbour View in Dorset and Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire have installed the tech plus Portchester Crematorium in Hampshire, which is run by a joint committee, and Woodlands Crematorium in Scarborough, north Yorkshire, also says it has deNOx technology.

An FOI request confirmed at least 91 per cent of the 198 publicly-run crematoria do not have the technology installed and Mr Tapper described the findings as “potentially very bad PR for council-run crematoriums - if people realise they go to a funeral and they might as well be standing on the M25 on a bad day taking deep breaths”.

Many councils said they do not currently have deNOx equipment in their crematoria as there is no legislative requirement to do so.

A number insisted they have been considering the new technology and said they would look to install it if legislation changes.

Mr Tapper, however, said: “I think around the country there are an awful lot of crematoriums that really should be writing a cheque and getting on with it. No extra planning permission is needed. Just a small space.

“Having deNOx equipment is comparable to having seatbelts in cars or a catalytic converter – it should be law.

“Twenty years ago abatement cost the industry an absolute fortune to take out the mercury in people’s teeth. Mercury was becoming atmospheric; it’s very nasty stuff. That was the law. We had no choice – even though it was so expensive.

“But here we are – with the same thing which is relatively inexpensive and arguably no politician has got it on the agenda.”

Dignity plc, which runs 46 crematoria across the UK, has said it is “actively considering whether to install deNOx technology across its estate.

Steve Gant, crematoria director at The Crematorium & Memorial Group - part of Dignity plc, said: “We are aware that new technology has been developed that makes it possible to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at crematoria.

“We recognise our responsibility to help protect the environment. Whenever we build a new crematorium, we ensure we meet high environmental standards and seek to minimise the local environmental impact.

“The equipment at many of our crematoria was upgraded from 2010, when we invested £11 million in advance of legislative requirements on mercury abatement.”

The use of deNOx technology in crematoria is more common in European countries such as Italy and Belgium where tougher emission level regulations exist than in the UK.

In response to an FOI request, North East Lincolnshire Council told us: “It is only in recent years that some European regulators have started to set NOx limits related to crematoria, but many EU Countries (including the UK) have yet to do so. Those countries that have set limits are: Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain.

“It is not possible to speculate if NOx emission limit values will or will not be set for the UK in the future, or at what level.

“As you are you are not required to abate NOx emissions in the UK with legislation as it stands, the main benefit of the system is to improve local air quality standards.

“There is increasing concern as to the effects of these pollutants on health, particularly the increased likelihood of respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs and can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.

“There are several UK installations using deNOx systems, and these are all at newly built sites, and were fitted solely to minimise their impact on the environment rather than meet any regulatory standards.

“The system can reduce the emissions of NOx by up to 80 per cent.

“Due to potential technical difficulties our service provider does not recommend fitting deNOx equipment to unabated cremators at present until we have completed extensive proving trials to quantify performance.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said local authorities are responsible for the regulation of crematoria and there is currently no control of nitrogen oxides required.

The government’s statutory guidance document for crematoria advises that “nitrogen oxides arising from coffins might be lessened by switching from coffins made using board made from wood and nitrogen containing resins”.

And a growing number of funeral directors are starting to do their bit to bring about more eco-friendly funerals and encourage families to cut their final footprint with low emissions coffins.

H. Porter & Sons in Stourbridge, West Midlands, is among funeral firms offering coffins made from a paper-based fibreboard that emits up to 87 per cent less nitrogen oxides during cremation than commonly-used chipboard coffins.

LifeArt in Gloucester is the company behind the new greener coffins which, as well as reducing NOx emissions, use fewer trees in manufacturing. It is estimated switching from chipboard to LifeArt coffins could save up to 118,000 trees per annum.

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Simon Rothwell, director of LifeArt Coffins UK, said many firms in the funeral sector are now deciding to do something about the environment and he added: “Our approach has been to offer a choice of traditional and personalisable coffins to satisfy a wide range of needs.

“We’re also clear that our products shouldn’t cost the earth from a price perspective. “Historically, eco-coffins have been very expensive but ours are priced to be affordable and make it easier for families to reduce their final footprints.”

Lucy Porter, managing director of H. Porter & Sons, said families have been growing increasingly concerned about pollution and climate change and many have been supportive of funeral directors offering affordable environmentally-friendly choices.

She said: "We’re seeing more interest in eco-coffins and funeral products from our clients due to growing public awareness about the damage being done to the planet.

“That’s why we’ve decided to start offering LifeArt coffins to help our clients reduce the environmental impacts of funerals whilst still providing a choice in terms of traditional and personalisable coffins.

“The other environmental advantage of a LifeArt coffin is the handles, which are made of wood. This is much better than the commonly used plastic faux brass handles, which end up in the cremator creating toxic fumes, or when buried stay in the ground leaving a polluting legacy for hundreds of years to come."