This black smoke pouring from the stack at Asheville Mortuary Services, a crematorium on Thompson Street near Biltmore Village, has caught the attention of some neighbors who complain that smoke and ash from the burning bodies has become a nuisance.
The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service and the local WNC Regional Air Quality Agency are investigating the complaints. There have been no citations or violations issued against Asheville Mortuary, and crematory manager Stanley Eugene Combs Jr. said the business has always followed rules issued by regulatory agencies. He added that the company is sensitive to the concerns of surrounding businesses and residents.
In a complaint filed Feb. 19 with the state BFS, a neighbor of the facility wrote that “when the crematorium burns bodies the black stinking smoke is so thick that at times you cannot see the parking lot. At other times, ashes fall from the sky like snow. The smell of burning flesh stays on your clothes even after you rush inside.”
Some black smoke is discharged when a cremation starts, according to Combs, “but there is no ash to be found.” In Asheville Mortuary’s March 7 response to the state board, Combs and Asheville Mortuary manager James W. Penland wrote that their business had recently passed an inspection by the air-quality agency. The business also had maintenance and repairs done to its cremation chamber and smokestack, Combs and Penland wrote.
Paul Harris, executive director of the state BFS, said the board is looking into the issue.
James Raiford, air-quality engineer at the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, said his agency is looking into the complaint. Asheville Mortuary’s permit to operate issued in November 2005 allows some visible emissions, he said. The emissions “shall be no more than 20 percent opacity when averaged over a six-minute period,” according to the permit. The standard can be exceeded if: no six-minute period exceeds 87 percent opacity; no more than one six-minute period exceeds 20 percent opacity in any hour; and no more than four six-minute periods exceed 20 percent opacity in any 24-hour period.
In terms of odor, Asheville Mortuary is required to do what it can to prevent “objectionable odors beyond the facility’s boundary” at 89 Thompson St., according to the permit.
One possible cause for an increase in heavy smoke is the cremation of obese bodies, according to the crematorium. Raiford said it’s possible that large bodies can lower cremation-chamber temperatures such that it creates an increase in smoke, but an afterburner is supposed to take care of excess particulate before it’s emitted into the air.