LONG BEACH -- The city is set on Tuesday to formalize a one-year ban on new mortuaries, funeral homes and crematoriums that was passed last month after residents expressed concerns about the effects of such facilities.
A public hearing on the moratorium, intended to give Long Beach time to develop new regulations governing the funeral industry, will be held when the City Council meets at 5 p.m., 333 W. Ocean Blvd.
The freeze, sponsored by Councilman Gary DeLong, was proposed after residents objected to a funeral home located at Seventh Street and Newport Avenue taking steps to install an incinerator to cremate human remains.
Belmont Heights Funeral Center specifically chose the location because a crematorium was an allowed accessory use for a funeral home at the property. No embalming is done at the location, according to the center's director, Jonathan Polk.
Cremation is an increasingly popular choice in the United States, with 42 percent of the deceased choosing the option in 2011, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Only 6 percent of people were cremated in 1975.
California has been consistently ahead of the national average. Of the 234,626 deaths reported in the state in 2011, 57 percent of the bodies were cremated, an increase of 6 percent from five years earlier.
Some worry that mercury from dental fillings in burning corpses present an airborne health risk, but industry officials say crematoriums are safe, well-regulated and meet all government air-quality standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that crematoriums emit 320 pounds of mercury per year, though activists put the amount as high as three tons.
Even the higher figure is only 3 percent of the 100 tons of mercury that the EPA estimates is pumped into U.S. skies annually, mainly from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources.
Long Beach's moratorium does not apply to any applications filed by mortuaries, funeral homes or crematoriums on or before Feb. 19.
Polk said the Belmont Heights Funeral Center was in the process of drawing up plans before the ban and submitted a letter of intent stating its desire to open a crematorium when it secured a business license last year.
"The city knew about our plans," said Polk. "It wasn't like it sprung up out of the blue. "
The funeral center is considering legal action, but Polk said, "We're not trying to make a big stink. We just want to be able to do business. "
The ban would expire no later than Feb. 18, 2014.
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