The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposal by St. Michael Cemetery, 510 Canterbury St. in Roslindale, to add four new crematorium bays or "retorts" after nearby residents - including one who said she is planning to be cremated there - raised concerns about mercury and other metal emissions that might land in the area after cremations.
The board rejected the proposal without prejudice, which means the cemetery can return for approval in less than a year if it can reach agreement with neighbors on how to solve the issues; board Chairwoman Christine Araujo said she hoped the two sides could solve what she said seemed to be a communications breakdown.
Residents said the cemetery, which already has eight retorts, has agreed to ask area funeral directors to remove filings from the mouths of bodies sent to the cemetery so that their cremation does not release mercury from filings into the air. But that still leaves the question of what happens to metals from hip replacements, pacemakers and other implanted items, as well as from any buttons on clothing.
Unusually for the Office of Neighborhood Services under Mayor Wu, the office recommended denial of board of approval. The office has refrained from taking a stance on matters before the board since Wu took office last fall. City Councilor Brian Worrell, whose district includes parts of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain, also opposed the proposal.
The cemetery already has approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection to add the new bays, based on air testing that showed minimal impact - based, however, on a monitoring station in Nubian Square, nowhere near the cemetery.
But several nearby residents, including Rick Yoder of the Mount Hope-Canterbury Neighborhood Association, said the public never had any say in the state process. Residents said they want to see air monitoring done around the neighborhood, and noted the presence of both the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary and its preschool program just across American Legion Highway - and said Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge uses "wet scrubbers" to reduce emissions from its crematory.
But a St. Michael official said Mount Auburn doesn't use any scrubbers and that, if anything, the St. Michael equipment would be slightly cleaner than what Mount Auburn uses.
One resident of the neighboring section of Jamaica Plain said she is already working with a local funeral director on what happens after she passes and that she is looking at St. Michael because it offers the least expensive option in the area. But, she added, "until the state approves a more ecologically sound method, I don't want my legacy to affect the health and welfare of my neighbors after I'm gone."