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Dowell speaks out against crematorium fears

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The Mayor of Winlock has pushed back against what he sees as misinformation regarding a proposed crematorium after speaking with protesters in City Hall Friday.

Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell had been listening to a group of around half-a-dozen residents airing their concerns while dropping off a petition against the facility and he began to refute the perception that a crematorium would pose harm to the community.

“I fail to see the problem with emissions that people are talking about,” said Dowell, stating the research conducted by himself and fellow officials shows there is no reason to be concerned about smoke, ash or noxious fumes impacting the health of residents, adding he would be very much against the facility if such hazards were the case.

Opposition to a to a crematorium, which has been proposed by Cattermole Funeral Home, began after May 7 when City Hall mailed out a notification to properties within 300 feet of the proposed crematorium site (201 First St.) informing them a public hearing was to take place for approval of a conditional use permit allowing the crematorium within the zone.

Resident Rosanna Wong, who has led opposition efforts, said she was shocked to hear not all residents were notified of the proposed crematorium, and felt compelled to inform them of the potential risks.

“The town belongs to the people living in it and they should know,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I thought my job was to go door-to-door and let them know what is happening.”

Wong said she had researched the dangers of crematoriums online and found articles indicating multiple harmful chemicals are expelled during the cremation process, including mercury in the case of bodies with dental fillings. She pointed out mercury vapors can harm children and the tissue in vital organs such as the brain and liver, and said residents have a right to be protected from such dangers.

But Dowell said concerns about mercury and other emissions are unfounded according to the facts, a statement supported by Chief Engineer Paul Mairose, of the Southwest Clean Air Agency.

The agency, based in Vancouver, is responsible for regulating local air quality, and Mairose said modern crematoriums burn so cleanly they are not considered a pollution hazard, and any chemicals they do expel are produced at negligible levels.

“Generally, the emissions are extremely low,” he said, stating the temperatures within a crematorium furnace are so high (around 1,500 degrees) the only expulsions are generally water vapor and carbon dioxide. “Most anything that’s in there is destroyed.”

He also acknowledged mercury vapors can be produced from fillings, but said the levels generated from a burning body are so insignificant his agency does not look for them in regular tests.

“There just isn’t enough mercury there to identify,” he said, stating opposition he has often encountered against crematoriums “purely is a perception issue” and not a matter of actual pollution hazards.

But Wong said statements such as these do nothing to refute what she sees as vetted and well-supported articles from such sources such as NBC News, the LA Times and the University of Florida, adding she feels certain members within the industry who say crematoriums are safe are serving a professional conflict of interest.

When presented with copies of such research from those protesting the crematorium, Dowell noted multiple of the articles had been printed years ago and were not depending on up-to-date information or sources who could be considered well-informed.

“I’m not for, I’m not against,” he clarified about his stance on the proposed crematorium, stating he was instead frustrated by the misinformation spreading around town that smoke and ash—and even particles of human remains—were going to be affecting residents.

Dowell added Cattermole Funeral Home, owned currently by Russ Weeks, has been very open to working with the city to conform to its needs and is not interested in forcing this proposed business on anyone.

“They’re open to suggestions,” said Dowell.

Weeks himself said Cattermole is interested in serving the public and being a good neighbor to surrounding homes and businesses, stating, “we don’t want to have hard feeling with anyone.”

Wong added she is not opposed to Weeks’ proposal for a crematorium, but is simply concerned about its proximity to Downtown Winlock and instead would like to see a location further away from residents and businesses.

The hearing for the conditional use permit is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall. Weeks has indicated he will be present to directly address concerns, and encouraged community members to attend.

Those with questions or requiring accommodations may call (360) 785-3811.

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