Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Promession Considered in Scotland

A Faerie Glen in Scotland 

In September, an interview with Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, developer of Promession was posted on The Daily Undertaker.  Since then, there hasn't been much in the news about the process becoming a real option for families, but I have heard from a great many people who would choose it for themselves if it were available.  Now there is news that the promession process may be gaining ground in Scotland.  Following is an excerpt from an acticle published today in the Scotsman by Jenny Haworth.  It seems that space restrictions and environmental concerns have given authorities cause to look into this worthy process.  Although the authorities seem to miss some key points about promession, namely that the remains would make a positive rather than a negative impact on the earth, and that the liquid nitrogen is a substance that is already produced as a by-product of liquid oxygen production, they cite sound reasons for considering the process. 

BODIES could be freeze-dried and shattered into dust to save space and help the environment, under plans being considered by a Scottish local authority.  East Lothian Council thinks the technique, invented in Sweden, could help ease cemetery congestion, while cutting emissions from cremations.  The process would involve freezing the dead body to -18C before submerging it in liquid nitrogen. This would make the body so brittle it would disintegrate into dust when a vibration was passed through it.
Stuart Pryde, the council's principal amenities officer, told community councillors that space in graveyards in East Lothian could run out within decades, and that freezing was a serious option for the future rather than building new crematoria.
He said: "There is a new system being developed where they basically freeze-dry you, hit you with a hammer and you break into dust, so there are no gas emissions – nothing.
"The end process is the same, in as much as there is a casket which can be buried or scattered or whatever, but it does not have the need for -emitting furnaces. It is a very, very clean way of getting the same result."  He added that it was particularly relevant to Musselburgh, because Inveresk Cemetery could not be extended.
The process, known as promession, is considered more environmentally friendly than cremation, largely because it avoids the mercury pollution created by burning fillings in teeth and other metal objects in the body, such as replacement joints or surgical implants.
Exposure to mercury is linked to damage to the brain, nervous system and fertility, and crematoria are believed to be one of the main sources of mercury pollution in the UK.
A spokeswoman for the council acknowledged the process might not be popular with some. "It's considered to be a very environmentally friendly way of doing it, but of course some people think it sounds dreadful to be freeze-dried," she said.
"Who knows, in the future something like that might become as acceptable as cremations. When crematoria were first invented they were also not considered acceptable."
Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, praised the council for considering the environmental impact of disposing of bodies.
"There are certainly a lot of concerns about crematoria," he said. 
"You have got hazardous emissions from the smoke stack. There's a metal component in amalgam used in teeth, as well as in pacemakers. 
"Another concern is that like other species, human bodies are increasingly riddled with chemical substances. Like any other combustion source this can be of serious local concern."
However, he suggested East Lothian Council should carry out more research before moving ahead with the technology, to make sure that the energy used to cool the body to -18C did not negate the environmental benefit.

Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, 
biologist and head of operations at Promessa Organic AB

The article goes on to report that the Church of Scotland has no ethical issues with the process, and Ms. Wiigh-Mäsak is allowed to explain the process and point out some of its benefits, including a possible expansion of where people can be legally buried:

SUSANNE Wiigh-Mäsak, the biologist who invented the promession process, said: "The main principle of this ecological form of burial is that the corpse is transformed into an organic, odourless, hygienic powder. This, in combination with a dedicated method to separate contaminants such as mercury, sharply reduces impact on the environment in comparison with today's forms of burial.
"The use of cryogenic technology in the process reduces the impact on the air we breathe, since there are no emissions of smoke or mercury to the air. 
"Mercury emissions in particular are a serious problem for which no acceptable solution has been found. 
"Even the greenhouse effect, which has increased in pace with man's use of fossil fuels, is reduced by using liquid nitrogen instead of combustibles. The burial itself takes place in a shallow grave, in the upper mulch-forming layers of the soil. 
"Here we find life-giving oxygen and the busy little break-down specialists, the micro-organisms that are the basis for our existence, at the same time as they are a prerequisite to the process of decomposition.
"The coffin and its contents are transformed into mulch in about half a year, thus becoming an important contribution to the living earth. In this way, ecological burial does not add to eutrophication of the seas via ground water or run-off, and vital drinking water is spared. 
"Since the remains do not cause any impact on the environment, this should also lift restrictions making it possible to place gravesites freely; in the home, on family property or other places with emotional ties to the deceased and next of kin."

for the full article, visit
For more information on Promessa AB and promession visit the web site at


Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could get some sort of a petition going for Promession here in the states.

The Undertaker said...

I'll sign it!

Anonymous said...

I suppose this would have to get up and running abroad before the US would embrace it. Thank you Patrick for maintaining this excellent blog!

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