The Cremation Process

by MSO

The average adult will weigh about six pounds after cremation

Cremation is a process that reduces dead bodies to non-volatile ashes that contain none of the health risks that a corpse would pose. It is an alternative to traditional burial that is gaining steadily in popularity in many nations. The National Funeral Directors Association cremation facts page estimates that cremation will account for 59% of all disposition of bodies by 2025, but the rate in Canada is already nearly 70% and in Japan it is 98%. Currently, cremation seems to be inversely proportional to the church attendance of a population but even in Christian societies it is steadily on the rise.

The modern process of cremation typically occurs in an industrial furnace attached to a funeral home or chapel, powered by diesel, natural gas or propane. It must be capable of attaining temperatures from 870-980 C (1,598-1,796 F) which boils away fats and body tissue, leaving a small mass of ash. The process can take as little as one hour for small bodies (45 kg / 99 lbs).

The cremation process is only meant for one body at a time: it is illegal in many countries to burn multiple bodies at once. Extreme cases include situations like a deceased mother and stillborn children, and in this case the ashes must be kept together.

The chamber where the body is placed is called the retort and is lined with heat-resistant bricks which are replaced every five years or so to account for thermal fatigue. The coffin or container is inserted into the retort quickly to avoid loss of heat. Sometimes, a motorized trolley (called a charger) assists this process. Some crematoria allow for viewing, which is strictly required by some religions. The size of crematoriums is standard in most places but larger areas will often have larger chambers to accommodate larger bodies and smaller chambers for infants.

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