Crematorium smoke triggers complaints

This black smoke poring 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.

Spokesmen at the N.C. Board of Funeral Service and the local WNC Regional Air Quality Agency are investigating the complaints. There have been no citations of violations issued against Asheville Mortuary, and crematory manager Stanley Eugene Combs Jr. said the business has always followed regulations issued by regulatory agencies. Combs said Asheville Mortuary Services, at 89 Thompson St., is sensitive to the concerns of surrounding businesses and homes.

In a complaint filed Feb. 19 with the state funeral service board, a neighbor of the crematorium 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 control 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 Board of Funeral Service, 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, Raiford 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. Asheville Mortuary cremated 684 bodies for the 2007 calendar year.

Click on the link below to watch a video showing some of the smoke emitted by Asheville Mortuary Services.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor



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9 thoughts on “Crematorium smoke triggers complaints

  1. Johnny

    Kinda like those articles about coffin makers having to build larger caskets, I love this story — big people making for lower burn temps at the crematorium! There’s a social cost to obesity, right up to the grave, eh?

  2. Bob Roberts

    The thick smoke shown in these pictures has nothing to do with normalcy. The retort must be malfunctioning, my guess is the AB is not working properly.

    I disagree. Thick black smoke only comes out of the stack momentarily. But I have never seen smoke like this, unless the crematory is malfunctioning.

    Ash should not appear, even under these circumstances. Smells certainly would be present in an improperly working unit. Generally, public fears are unfounded due to lack of knowledge as to how a crematory works. However, these pictures show a system that is in need of repairs.
    Flames should never be seen outside the stack. Actually, I don’t see a typical stack on this roof which may account for some dust coming out, as well.

    I have written a book on this subject. It is at:
    I also operate a business and website on these matters:


    • Mary Kline

      But, it’s green. The dementors are coming. Glad I don’t live there, lol.

  3. Paul

    I’m not surprised that the neighbours are complaining about the smoke, clearly there’s something very wrong to see this amount of smoke and sometimes flames too. Crematoria emissions here in England are strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Act, and I’m sure that this cremtorium breaks some of your environmental laws too.

  4. tinymarie

    I smelled a weird smoke in the air near a friend’s house. I looked up and saw thick black smoke pouring out of the crematoria smoke stack.I couldn’t get to my car fast enough. I felt like I was being smothered by dead man smoke. It reminded me of that crazy movie Soylent Green!

  5. Toni

    We’ve seen these kinds of issues in Tx, but more often than not when multiple cremations are being done.

    The lack of accountability is what bothers me. It seems that every Funeral Board turns its head the other way when something like this happens. Sure they may receive a fine, but they can appeal. The bottom line is that the public should not have to bear witness to this. I know my lungs wouldn’t want to breathe that in.

  6. jack

    crappy all crematory equipment === bottom burner oven ,the case takes longer to burn then with a top burning oven …the more expensive the retort the less it smokes

  7. vern

    maybe the cheap outfit bought the cheapest equipment that they were able to get their hands on….I know that better equipment that`s better maintained smokes less

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