New York crematories cited for putting black smoke in the air, pandemic might be to blame

National News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)– Complications from the pandemic may actually be part of the reason local crematories have been cited for putting black smoke into the air.

In early September, photos of black smoke coming from the Sheridan Park Crematory led the D.E.C. to suspend its operations and slap a notice of violation on the Amigone Funeral Home which operates it.

One Tonawanda neighbor says, “Can you imagine what we’ve been going through all these years, inhaling human remains.”

But on that same day, September 9, a neighbor of the Buffalo City Crematory also captured images of black smoke coming from that facility operated on Delavan near Linwood across from Forest Lawn Cemetery.

It was the second time someone captured video of black smoke there in 3 weeks.

That facility declined an interview but shared a video of what the inside looks like.

Through a Freedom of Information request, News 4 obtained the DEC’s Notice of Violation to Joe Dispenza, president of Buffalo City Crematory.

He told the DEC that the most likely cause of the black smoke was from burning the “disaster strength” or “crash strength” body pouches, made of thicker materials and are now being used since the COVID crisis has depleted the supply of the lighter and thinner body pouches.

“It became a distribution issue.”

David Fleming, NYS Association of Cemeteries

David Fleming represents the NYS Association of Cemeteries and says cremations are up more than 30% this year statewide.

He says, “These are unusual times obviously during COVID we’ve expected certainly an uptick in the number of cremations across NY partially out of need because families aren’t able to have the services they want to have right away because of gathering, so we’re seeing more folks choosing cremation.”

Fleming also says crematory operators are not allowed to open up the pine boxes and see what kind of body bag is inside.

“So there can be instances where those remains are delivered to crematories in these heavy crash bags and the crematory operators would have no idea that these heavy rubberized containers were included and it does cause a buildup of black smoke at times because of this heavy plastic material. It’s unfortunate but it has happened at times around the state.”

David Fleming, NYS Association of Cemeteries

Just since the notice of violation, the Buffalo Crematory planted 20-foot pine trees to act as a buffer to the neighboring homes which are less than 100 feet from the smokestacks.

The DEC did not suspend operations at Buffalo City Crematory because the department says, “Mr. Dispenza immediately established a new policy that every cremation case marked as homicide, accident or one believed to be a medical examiner case, must be cremated in a more updated unit.”

Due to the world-wide demand for cremation units driven by the pandemic, one of the current units will be replaced with a more modern cremator by the end of January.

“Roughly 30% of the crematories in the state are going to be going online in the next 5 years with all new equipment with even higher emissions standards and most of them already meet the requirements.”

David Fleming, NYS Association of Cemeteries

DEC officials are still deciding whether or not to levy fines on both Buffalo City Crematory and Sheridan Park Crematory. Both investigations continue.

Both operations turned down our request for an interview.

They represent two out of 10 crematories which operate in WNY, in addition to 12 others which are permitted to burn animal remains like the SPCA in West Seneca.

Fleming tells us, “When you look at them, you might think that there’s smoke but they’re actually emitting heat out of the stacks. There may be some smoke based on how early in the day the cremation is occurring. I think when folks hear of random issues with an instance at a crematory, many of them can be directly pointed to what we’re experiencing during the pandemic and that’s been really factors outside the control of the crematory.”

On November 20, the DEC was back on-site at the Sheridan Park crematory.

They ran the equipment for the first time since the violation 10 weeks ago, but the DEC has not yet given the go-ahead for that crematory to resume operations. Both investigations continue.

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