By Mark Rosman
MANALAPAN – Residents who addressed the Manalapan Environmental Commission at its June 13 meeting made it clear they are concerned about the Old Tennent Cemetery Association’s proposal to construct a crematorium on its Tennent Road property.
Professionals retained by the association testified before the commission as part of an ongoing municipal review of the cemetery association’s plan to expand an existing building, install two retorts (creamation chambers) and conduct up to 600 cremations on an annual basis.
Commission Chairwoman Jenine Tankoos told residents the panel’s task is to review development plans in order to identify potential environmental concerns.
Tankoos said the commission members will not make a binding decision on the crematorium application. After hearing from the applicant and its representatives and from members of the public, the commission will provide a non-binding resolution to the Planning Board, which may be asked to consider the application at some point.
The commission did not conclude its review of the cemetery association’s plan on June 13. The discussion has been continued to the panel’s 7:30 p.m. July 11 meeting at the municipal building.
Attorney Edward Liston is representing the cemetery association. Liston said that in addition to seeking approval in Manalapan, the application will also be subject to approval from the New Jersey Cemetery Board and from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Engineer John Ploskonka, engineer Robert Walters of Greystone Environmental Management and Senior Project Manager Lynn Brass-Smith of Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants presented testimony on behalf of the cemetery association.
Ploskonka said the association wants to convert an existing building on the church property into a crematorium that would contain two retorts. The plan calls for a 1,300-square-foot addition to the building and the applicant is not seeking any variances or waivers from municipal boards, he said.
Walters described the process of cremation and said “trace quantities” of toxic emissions would result from the process.
“We are confident this unit will meet air quality standards here and that it is DEP-approvable,” Walters said, adding that New Jersey has some of the strictest air quality standards in the United States. “It is important to look for quantity (of the emissions) and the off-site impacts.”
He said the particulate matter that is emitted from the building’s chimneys will be dispersed over the area as a function of weather and wind conditions.
Liston said the crematorium would be run by a state licensed operator.
Brass-Smith said she inspected the site, reviewed the proposal and concluded that “the application will not result in an adverse environmental impact. State-of-the-art equipment will be used and the facility meets the ambient air quality standards. There will be conditions that need to be adhered to.”
The crematorium application is being opposed by citizens who have formed Stop the Manalapan Crematorium Inc. Glenn Cohen is the president of the organization.
In comments to the commission, Cohen said many people frequent the area and live near the site of the proposed crematorium, which is close to the intersection of Tennent Road and Route 522, and in the vicinity of Manalapan High School on Church Lane and the Manalapan Recreation Center on Route 522.
People who pass by the crematorium will deal with “airborne human remains wafting out of those chimneys. People will involuntarily be breathing in the remains of other human beings. It is assault,” Cohen said.
“We believe the number of cremations (600 annually) is vastly understated,” he continued. “Why would a sophisticated group like the Old Tennent Cemetery Association say, ‘We will be the smallest (cremation) operation in the area?’ ”
Cohen asked the members of the environmental commission “to take a stand for the good of the public.”
Bernie Frojmovich, who is running for a seat on the Township Committee, spoke on behalf of the citizens group Manalapan Strong. He said he is troubled by the proximity of the proposed crematorium to homes, to the high school and to the recreation center.
Frojmovich specifically expressed concerned about the emission of mercury particulates from the crematorium’s chimneys.
Comments made by the applicant’s representatives indicated that mercury can be found in the dental fillings of individuals who are being cremated and that during the cremation process, trace amounts of the element would be released into the atmosphere.
Frojmovich said the cemetery association is asserting there will be 1.5 grams of mercury per body, while the residents are asserting there will be 8.6 grams of mercury per body.
Kathleen Foley, who lives on Tennent Road not far from the proposed location of the crematorium, spoke about emissions from the facility and said, “This vapor is going to pollute our well (as it seeps into the ground). Who is going to want to eat vegetables that are grown locally? This is not good for the community. We are the taxpayers. It is the people here that you need to listen to. This is no joke. The wind will carry this pollution and once the pollution is in the ground, you are not going to get rid of it.”
Liston said he would respond at the July 11 meeting. He said he may present a funeral director and a representative of the firm that manufactures the cremation equipment when the hearing resumes.
Outside the meeting room, the Township Committee made a press release available to residents which stated that “the township’s land use ordinance does not permit cremation facilities anywhere in the township. The Township Committee has made it clear that it does not want such facilities to be permitted here.”