In an attempt to prevent the natural decomposition of the human body after death, embalming chemicals are used to help make the body look more natural at a funeral viewing.
The United States has over 22,500 cemeteries. And every year an estimated 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid consisting of chemicals like formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, antibiotics, and other poisonous chemicals. These toxic substances get into our soil and contaminate our local water supplies.
It’s thought that the ancient Egyptians discovered embalming, known as mummification, but the Incas and cultures of Peru also developed embalming processes. Even though the Egyptian mummies are well known, some of the best preserved bodies in the world are from the Han dynasty. These well preserved might have been influenced by a special liquid made from antimony salts and mercury, but the low temperature and humidity levels in the tombs maintained the bodies for centuries.
Modern embalming has only become a recent trend. Union Army doctor Dr. Thomas Holmes developed the embalming technique during the American Civil War. In order to return soldiers killed in battle home for burial Dr. Holmes drained their blood and embalmed their arteries with a fluid made from arsenic. This was used to preserve the bodies. It became more mainstream when Abraham Lincoln’s body was embalmed for a burial at home.
Formaldehyde joined the embalming recipe thanks to German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann in 1867. This replaced the use of arsenic, but with so many bodies already buried with arsenic based embalming how much arsenic is in our soil?
The natural decomposition aids in the fertilization of our land and we are depriving it. Not only are we stopping this natural process we replacing it with the addition of toxic chemicals. Embalming fluids can contain up to 35% formaldehyde and 56% ethanol.
Want more? Here are a few you might like from the archives:
- Planning Your Green Burial
- Memorial Ecosystems Started the Trend for Eco-Burial Sites Across the United States
- Embalming Started During the Civil War and Is Not Legally Required in the United States – So Why Is It Still the Most Popular?
- Traditional Funerals are Bad for the Planet
- Green Burials Offer a Natural Alternative