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Environmental commission members weigh crematorium plan

By Mark Rosman
Staff Writer

MANALAPAN – Members of the Manalapan Environmental Commission are reviewing the information that has been presented about a proposed crematorium as they prepare to issue non-binding recommendations to the Manalapan Planning Board.

The commission’s recommendations may be issued in about a month, according to the panel.

Planning Board members may begin hearing the crematorium application in the near future and they can consider the recommendations made by the environmental commission as they weigh the information that they, too, will be offered by the applicant, the Old Tennent Cemetery Association.

The cemetery association is proposing to create a crematorium in an existing building on the property of the Old Tennent Cemetery, Tennent Road. The facility would have two retorts (furnaces). Representatives of the cemetery association have said they are seeking permission to conduct a maximum of 600 cremations annually.

Residents in two organized groups, Stop the Manalapan Crematorium and Manalapan Strong, are opposing the application.

Commission Chairwoman Jenine Tankoos previously informed residents that the panel’s task is to review development plans in order to identify potential environmental concerns.

At the commission’s July 11 meeting, Ron Salvatore, a representative of Matthews International, the manufacturer of the cremation equipment, and Robert McGirr, the owner of the Clayton-McGirr Funeral Home, Freehold Township, presented information relating to the application.

Salvatore described the cremation equipment and process in detail. He said the retorts operate on natural gas and the process can take several hours. He said no smoke or odor will emanate from the facility.

In response to a question that was raised at a previous meeting, Salvatore said if a deceased individual had radioactive implants in his body, those materials would be removed at a hospital prior to cremation. If those materials (i.e., radioactive seeds) are not removed, the body will not be accepted for cremation, he said.

In regard to why the cemetery association is proposing to have two retorts when, judging by the time needed to complete a cremation, it appears that one retort might be able handle 600 cremations a year, Salvatore said, “Death does not happen in a timely fashion. The second unit is not for volume, it is for flexibility.”

Once again, the issue of what is referred to as particulate matter was a topic of discussion. Particulate matter is the material that would be emitted from the flue of the crematorium.

Salvatore described that material as trace pieces from the casket or container that held the individual during the process, while residents who oppose the crematorium said they believe particulate matter will consist of more toxic elements that are produced during the process.

Commission members indicated they are concerned with the way the particulate matter would be disbursed by wind and weather in the area surrounding the crematorium.

McGirr said when he became a funeral home owner in 1979, between 10 and 15 percent of the disposition of deceased indlviduals was through cremation. Today, that number is between 35 and 40 percent. McGirr said the proposed crematorium would serve the greater Manalapan, Englishtown, Freehold and Millstone Township region.

Attorney Edward Liston is representing the cemetery association. Liston estimated that if the application was approved and the crematorium was constructed, like other new businesses, it would not reach its permitted maximum of 600 cremations per year for five to 10 years.

Glenn Cohen, the president of Stop the Manalapan Crematorium, asserted that mercury and other toxins can be deposited in soil from emissions released during the cremation process.

“Steam and other emissions will waft out of this facility and be involuntarily ingested by other people. This is an environmental factor … it is a noxious, offensive activity,” Cohen said.

Resident Robert Schechter said, “It is not good enough for the applicant to say it is not likely for toxins to have an impact on water sources. It is not Manalapan’s responsibility to allow the Old Tennent Cemetery Association to start a new business. This is an environmental game-changer.”

Attorney Steven P. Gouin represents Stop the Manalapan Crematorium. He informed the commission members that the applicant has taken the position that a crematorium is a permitted use at the Old Tennent Cemetery.

Gouin said he plans to contest that claim when the application comes before the Planning Board. He said his client believes the application belongs before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Gouin asked the commission members to take the “strong public opposition” to the application into account when composing their recommendations to the Planning Board, or to the zoning board if that becomes the venue in which the application is heard.

Commission members indicated they may recommend that Manalapan hire its own environmental expert to review the proposal. Environmental reports that have been prepared by the applicant and the objectors are at odds and commission members suggested that municipal officials may want another professional in the field to examine the issue.

Responses to questions and comments that were made by commission members and members of the public during the June 13 meeting were provided in a nine-page document prepared by Greystone Environmental Management. Liston distributed the document to the commission members on July 11, but he did not review the responses publicly.

The authors of the document noted that several people wanted to know how the applicant settled on 600 cremations per year as the maximum number that would be performed.

The response stated, “The number of annual cremations was based on discussions between the cemetery assocation and local funeral directors, and represents a best estimate of cremations likely to be referred to the cemetery at the present time. Environmental impacts, including potential air emissions, were also taken into account when selecting an appropriate limit on the number of annual cremations.”

On an issue related to emissions from the facility, the authors state that “crematoria are, however, subject to all of New Jersey’s general emissions standards with respect to criteria pollutants, air toxics, opacity (the amount of light obscured by particle pollution in the atmosphere) and odor.”

At the June 13 meeting, a member of the public noted that some residents in the vicinity of the cemetery property are on well water, and several speakers expressed concern that contaminants from the crematorium operation could contaminate surface water, drinking water and/or well water supplies.

The response states that “the quantities of trace metals emitted from the crematory operations are not likely to have any measurable impact on regional water quality. Small quantities of these same materials are naturally occurring in soil, surface water and ground water throughout the state.”

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