A 'greener, gentler choice'

Mortician is one of few in country to offer burial alternative

By Laura Bollin

For people who find traditional burial, entombment or cremation so 2012, another option is available for interring the dead here in the southwest suburbs.

The result of the process of alkaline hydrolysis, or "flameless cremation," is not ash but bone and an organic aqueous solution consisting of dissolved soft tissue and water. Among the funeral homes that offer the service is Palos-Gaidas Funeral Home in Palos Hills.

Carrying out the procedure is Ryan Cattoni, the owner of AquaGreen Dispositions in South Holland and the only alkaline hydrolysis facility in Illinois. Cattoni wanted to get into the mortuary industry after the death of his grandfather, he said.

"When I was a junior in high school, my grandfather passed away and it was a very hard experience because he lived with us," Cattoni said. "His funeral and wake really helped me through the grieving process, and I wanted to do that for other people."

Cattoni attended Worsham School of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, and in October opened AquaGreen. Now, he is encouraging people to "think outside the casket," his company's slogan.

Alkaline hydrolysis begins with the body of the deceased lowered into the vessel in a stainless steel basket. The vessel door is sealed, and sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are added to the machine.

"You find the chemicals in everyday household cleaners like Mr. Clean, in toothpaste and in beauty products," Cattoni said.

After the chemicals are added the machine fills up with water. The water is heated, and the mixture is gently circulated for six to 12 hours until all that remains are bones, liquid and inorganic material such as artificial joints and pace makers. The bone remains are crushed and can be placed in an urn, and the inorganic material is sent to a recycling plant.

Through alkaline hydrolysis, a body is broken down by water and chemicals into amino acids, small peptides, sugars, salts and nutrients. The sterile solution that remains is sent to a waste treatment facility and recycled.

The process produces no air pollution like traditional cremation, Cattoni said. Alkaline hydrolysis uses less energy than traditional flame creation.

Cattoni spent two years working to get laws passed that licensed alkaline hydrolysis in Illinois. The law approving flameless cremation was passed in February 2012. Cattoni's facility is the only licensed one in Illinois and one of only four in the country, with others in Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. The Shands Hospital in Florida and Mayo Clinic use the procedure to inter the remains of people who donated their bodies to medical research.

"I just want people to know that at this unfortunate and hard time, they do have more options than just cremation or burial," Cattoni said. "This is a greener and gentler choice. There haven't been options in the funeral industry for a very long time, and this is another option."