EPA and Federal Rules On Scattering Ashes From Cremation

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

Scattering Ashes At SeaIf the dispersal plan includes a scattering ashes at any of the following: sea, lake, pond or stream, you need to follow the requirements of both federal and state agencies.

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.

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4 Responses to “EPA and Federal Rules On Scattering Ashes From Cremation”

  1. Richard Tyll says:

    I am at a quandary. I live in a Four Story HUD Apartment, for the Elderly & Disabled. An Elderly Man who lives in the building recently lost His Wife. He has Both the cremated remains of His Wife & His Daughter. He sits in a Chair each day staring out the 3rd story window overlooking the River. When He found out I owned a small fishing boat, He asked me if I would place both Urns in the River, about 50 feet offshore so, He could stare out & feel a connection with His Wife & Daughter. It would be very easy to simply, anonymously Drop the Boxes so they rest on the bottom of the River in His Desired location. While my Compassion for this Man’s Grief is enough to compel me to fulfill His wish, I searched for the above information as I also have a Passion for following the Rules & Laws of my Country & State. Now, I either fulfill this Man’s wish or I somehow FAKE doing so & perhaps bury them secretly on the Shoreline where they will not pollute the water yet, act as the same closeness He longs to overlook His Loved Ones with Fond Memories and seek closure in His Own Time & Manner.

    Question: What would YOU do in a similar predicament?

  2. Richard Tyll says:

    Here are some answers to common questions about post-death matters in Michigan. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/burial-cremation-laws-michigan.html#7 – “Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.” – “The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land.” – “The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.” – ??? If remains are Safe, WHY is there a Three Mile Federal Requirement?

  3. Jamie Adams says:


    I would be upfront with the gentleman and let him know you will need to make sure you can legally do what he wants. Then contact state to see if it is possible for you to do as requested.

  4. Jamie Adams says:


    I assume that the 3 miles rule has more to do with keeping the water and shore clean rather than a health hazard. Ash of any kind can cause water to become cloudy keeping light from penetrating the water. So the deeper the water the ash is placed in the less likely this is to happen. Also ash can affect the Ph of water which can be more of a problem closer to the shoreline.

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