Ground Pollution: A Common Cemetery Risk

July 6, 2020

Graveyards have always been places where people go to pay their respects and remember the life of a loved one, friend, or family member. And while all those who are buried at a cemetery lived their own lives, they all have one thing in common: their remains will decompose over time. While this may sound a little harsh, the important thing to note is that for those of us who choose to be buried, our bodies will start to decompose within the ground and release nearly 40 liters of a mixture of water, organic matter, salts, and ammoniacal nitrogen into the groundwater around us. This will in turn lead to ground pollution, potentially contaminating the groundwater in the surrounding environment.

But it gets even worse as a whole lot more than a corpse goes into a burial plot. From coffins that are treated with varnishes and sealers to embalming fluids to a variety of metals, there are many different ground pollution causes that can make their way into cemeteries and Drinking water.

Here’s a look at ground pollution effects and the components that can bring harm to communities.

Risk Management

First, it’s important to note that cemeteries can avoid major legal matters as well as contamination problems by administering a cemetery risk management plan that aims to pinpoint potential threats.

Risk management plans can look at everything from potential trip and fall hazards to the fallout of a contamination issue. Cemeteries should be proactive in protecting their visitors and workers from any potential risk and can do so with an effective risk management plan. By obtaining the right level of insurance and combining it with active measures to highlight potential problems, cemeteries can end up avoiding issues related to public health.

Groundwater Pollution

Also known as groundwater contamination, this occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and make their way into the groundwater. It can also happen naturally due to minor or unwanted constituents or impurities in the groundwater. Groundwater contamination occurs when products, such as oil, road salts and chemicals get into the groundwater and cause it to become unsafe for human use.


Toxic chemicals from coffins that may be released into groundwater include varnishes, preservatives and sealers used on wooden coffins. The burial of coffins can pose an environmental and health hazard since the metals that are used in coffin-making can degrade over time and become harmful toxins. These can seep into the surrounding soils and groundwater. Wood preservatives and paints used in coffin construction contain certain minerals and include copper naphthalene, which is also harmful to the environment.


The main purpose of embalming is to delay decomposition in the body long enough to allow it to be viewed by visitors. The main ingredient to do this is formaldehyde, which has been classified as a hazardous waste from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The funeral industry legally buries over three gallons of embalming solution every time it enters a body.

When formaldehyde is used for embalming, it can break down, and the chemicals that it releases into the ground after burial and ensuing decomposition are inevitable. The problems posed by formaldehyde are the exposure of mortuary workers and the destruction of the decomposer microbes useful for breakdown of the body in the ground.

About Regan Agency

A family-owned business, Long Island-based Regan Agency has more than 35 years of experience serving the library insurance and risk management needs of Tri-State residents and businesses. We have earned the trust of our clients based on our integrity and commitment to offer individuals and businesses quality library insurance products at competitive prices backed by unparalleled responsive service. Just give one of our professionals a call at 631-669-3434.