Could some body bags burned during COVID pandemic pose a health risk? State set to notify human crematories of the problem

(WSVN) - Are coronavirus deaths possibly affecting some of the air we breathe? It’s a question tonight as the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida rise. 7’s Karen Hensel has our special report: Air of Trouble?

In August, 7 Investigates documented thick black smoke billowing out of the crematory at Maspons Funeral Home in Little Havana.

Since then, more black smoke rising into the air from two other South Florida crematories.

An expert on air quality told us it can be a health risk.

Dr. Naresh Kumar, University of Miami, September: “Those concentrations are alarmingly high.”

After seeing our video from Little Havana, a Miami-Dade inspector went to the funeral home and saw “no visible emissions” and found “no violations,” but the investigation of what caused the smoke continues.

An investigation that now includes state environmental officials, and the focus is on body bags.

Steven Bedoya, Miami-Dade County Environmental Specialist Supervisor: “You don’t want to have this burning into the environment. The standard is that we don’t want to have, pretty much any of it in the environment.”

It is polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a plastic the National Institutes of Health says is associated with an “increased risk” of a number of cancers.

In Florida, body bags are not allowed to be burned if they contain more than 0.5% of the chemical.

In the case of Maspons, the inspector wrote the funeral home’s “own body bags” … “do not contain PVC,” but “the facility does not have any data sheets on body bags that are received from hospitals,” and 7News has learned Maspons is not alone.

Steven Bedoya: “At this time, no one has the information because, like I said, the hospitals, the suppliers and the vendors just don’t have it, so that’s what we encountered immediately.”

Steven Bedoya, an environmental specialist with the county, says there’s a coronavirus connection to this chemical confusion.

There has been an increase in cremations, and Bedoya says people who die of COVID are being transported from hospitals to funeral homes in thicker body bags.

Steven Bedoya: “So, the bags they normally use are a bit thinner, but these thicker bags are pretty much what’s being used now to wrap the bodies, so it’s something new that we’re encountering with the pandemic.”

Karen Hensel: “Do you think those thicker bags potentially contain more PVC?”

Steven Bedoya: “At this point in time, we’re not sure.”

There are 205 permitted human crematories statewide. We were told the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was set to alert them of this potential problem by the end of October. That hasn’t happened yet, but Miami-Dade is not waiting on the state.

Steven Bedoya: “As soon as we find issues like this, we go ahead and address it head on.”

Which is why county officials immediately notified all 11 crematories about the potential health risk with the body bags.

With no official guidance yet from the state, Miami-Dade has told crematories in the county not to burn the thicker bags and to either use their own or cremate bodies without bags.

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