Disposing of Cremation Ashes and the Government
If you or a loved one has decided on cremation, there are few things you’ll need to consider when planning what to do with the cremains (ashes). You have two choices: keep the cremains or dispose of the ashes through burial or by scattering them. Either choice comes with its own set of rules, regulations and laws governed by federal and state agencies.
EPA and Cremains
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal agency that oversees the federal rules on cremation remains disposal, including the laws concerning federal lands and federal jurisdictions. Individual states each have their own rules and regulations, but can, and often do use the rules the EPA has set as guidelines.
The only federal rules that are generally enforced are ones regarding scattering of cremains at sea and by air. Scattering at sea falls under the Clean Water Act. Scattering by air falls under individual state rules and regulations. However, federal aviation laws (FAR91.15) state that a pilot can’t drop objects that can cause hazard to persons or property. The U.S. Government does not list cremains as hazardous material.
Cremains (Ashes) Disposal at Sea
Don’t be alarmed, federal and state governments don’t have stringent policies concerning cremation burials. Nevertheless, they do have a few rules and permits.
According to the EPA under the Clean Water Act, cremated remains must be scattered at least 3 nautical miles from land, by boat or by air. Containers such as urns, vases or cremation boxes must be disposed of separately if they are not made of readily decomposing material. The EPA does not allow for cremains to be scattered at beaches or in wading pools by the sea.
Although these rules are very straight forward and the permits are easy to obtain, it is a good idea to consult with the local funeral home or cremation services company handling the cremation. Equipped with the knowledge of the specific, cremation disposal requirements in your area, these professionals can provide the permits or complete the necessary paperwork needed to scatter the ashes at sea or other bodies of water.
For more information concerning the EPA guidelines visit EPA’s Burial of Human Remains at Sea page.
Notifying Governmental Agencies
A notification to the EPA should be done within 30 days of a burial or scattering of ashes at sea. (To notify the EPA fill out the EPA Burial at Sea form and submit it to the EPA by postal mail or email.)
Each state is responsible for their own lakes and water ways. You will need to check with the state to ensure you are following their rules and guidelines for cremated remain disposal and notification. Some states will require you to fill out notification forms if the cremains are by burial at sea or by air. Contact your individual state agencies to obtain the notification forms.
Whether you choose to scatter your loved one’s ashes across the sea, through the air or on your own private property, make sure you have obtained information on the rules and regulation that govern your area before hand.