Sunday 10 August 2014

Resomation anyone?

Now lads / товариші / товарищи / makkers / gymrodyr / cairde, you're reading The Blob, so resomation couldn't refer to just aNNything because, despite my butterfly mind, there are limits to the avenues of my curiosity.  There are accordingly certain themes or threads here: European languages; women in science; social justice; flags; islands; maps; data; end of life issues; Україна; the antics of my friends and relations; sheep.  So resomation is likely to fit in some such category, although I confess that I'd never heard the word before last weekend.  But I was surfing youtube, as you do, and in between Emily Graslie (woman) and numberphile (data) I discovered Hank Green galloping through some science  on SciShow. The latest posting there on the tides of the Bay of Fundy allows us some revision on the Petitcodiac Bore. When views on SciShow dry up Hank can probably get a job as a tobacco auctioneer, he talks so fast.

In October last year, Hank posed the interesting (to me) question "What do we do with dead bodies" which can be tagged on to End of Life Issues, if I ever organise myself enough.  I thought that the options were limited to a) burial (with various sub-options) and b) cremation, and c) donating body to science; but excluding d) cryopreservation as a minority option for self-regarding nut-jobs like Walt Disney. It turns out that Walt Disney was cremated like everyone else and the cryonics story is an urban legend. Dang! the world just got  a tad less interesting, but I'm glad I was wrong. Well Hank brought up another option . . . resomation which is technically possible but only available in a limited set of jurisdictions.

In the Spring of this year my Enivironmental Chemistry class reduced some twigs to an analysable sludge by boiling them up with hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid (don't do this at home).  But we could have reduced all the proteins, nucleic acids, fats and polysaccharides to their component monomers by boiling them up in a concentrated solution of sodium hydroxide (lye, and the main constituent of Drano which will dissolve the bacon fat and hairballs to clear the U-bend under your kitchen sink). Turns out you can do exactly the same thing with dead bodies although it helps to crank up the temperature to 160-180oC and under pressure to stop the whole cocktail boiling and behaving like a wet cremation delivering you to the atmosphere. Because one of the issues is that during cremation the mercury from our amalgam fillings vaporises and mercury vapor is definitely toxic.  The whole boil-in-a-(silk)-bag process takes 3 hours and produces a greenish liquid and some crushable bone-residue that are pathogen free and can be spread on the lawn or added to the compost heap. You'll have to use good judgement and a pH meter to determine how much you'll have to dilute the liquid, because lye will burn the grass on your lawn as effectively as it will disintegrate twigs.  Three hours is also about how long a cremation takes but the energy, carbon- and mercury- footprint is much less with resomation.

So there you have it - the trendy, ecological sound option for disposal is resomation until enough bodies have been processed in this way to show that it has some as yet unimagined negative consequences.  The monotheistic religions are all more or less disapproving of cremation: christians because of the hope of resurrection on the day of judgement - even if that is so far in the future that there won't be much left working in the resurrected bodies. As far as I can determine the same objections apply to resomation as to cremation. But is it cheaper???  And for me, it is an over-technical, instant gratification solution to corpse disposal: I have a plot in mind up by the bee-hives in the Home Field. Trad - dig hole, drop in corpse, cover up, that is all.

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