Topeka Kansans unnerved by the gruesome discoveries at a Georgia crematory can take comfort in a new state law designed to prevent any such horror stories from unfolding here, the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts said.
The law, passed last year, took effect Jan. 1. It requires crematory operators to renew their licenses yearly, pass annual inspections, create detailed records of all cremations and maintain them permanently, and maintain equipment in good working order.
The law also requires crematories to establish a secure holding facility for bodies awaiting cremation
All of the regulations should be in place by June, said Mack Smith, executive secretary of the Board of Mortuary Arts.
The rural crematorium in Georgia, where rotting corpses were found in garages, vaults and a wooded area, wasn't licensed because it performed cremation services for funeral homes and wasn't open to the public.
"It was not inspected, so nobody saw this pathetic situation," Smith said Wednesday.
Smith said the loophole that Georgia lawmakers are scrambling to close doesn't exist in the Kansas law, which requires that all 17 crematoriums in the state be inspected annually.
"Crematoriums are going to be licensed, they're going to be inspected, they're going to be regulated and they're going to be accountable," Smith said.
Twenty-five percent of the 2.3 million people who died in the United States in 2000 were cremated, according to the Cremation Association of North America. The group estimates that figure will double by 2025.
Ren Newcomer, president of Newcomer Funeral Service Group, which operates three funeral homes in Topeka, said the maintenance and record-keeping requirements in the law track closely with procedures already in use at the company.
"We're very, very careful with our identification process and the procedures that we follow," Newcomer said.
Newcomer said bodies are tracked through every step of the cremation process using metal tags so families can be sure that the ashes they receive are those of their loved ones. There also are specific procedures for how bodies should be handled.
All but one of the crematories in Kansas are housed in licensed funeral homes. The exception is the one at Topeka's Mount Hope Cemetery, which until the new law took effect used the same burn chamber to cremate both human and animal remains.
Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka, attempted to convince her colleagues to leave language in last year's bill permitting crematories to use the same chamber for pets and humans.
Lawmakers ultimately decided that if a crematory wanted to serve both, it would have to use separate chambers.