EPA oversees burials at sea
I've tried searching the Health Department's Web site, but there is nothing on disposal of human remains into the deep. I'm a retired seaman and I would like my body to rest in the ocean. What are the regulations?
Answer: Burial at sea is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA has rules for a "general permit" for such burials, but no formal permit actually is required, explained Dean Higuchi, spokesman for EPA's Region 9, which includes Hawaii.
Simply, "it's a system that allows burial at sea to happen," he said.
Under EPA rules, the body or casket needs to be weighted or prepared "to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently"; the burial must be at least three nautical miles out and at a minimum depth of 600 feet; and the EPA must be notified within 30 days after the fact.
(Certain areas, specifically in certain parts of Florida, require water to be at least 1,800 feet deep.)
No application or notice is required in advance, so long as the burial is conducted according to federal requirements, said Alan Ota, of the EPA's Region 9 Office in San Francisco.
However, after the burial, the EPA requires notification, which can be done by letter, stating the name of the deceased, the approximate position and date of burial, and family contact.
The letter should be sent to the EPA Region 9 Office: Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA 94105.
Ota said he does give out guidance regarding burial of un-cremated remains at sea, conforming to military practices, but most people inquire about burial of cremated remains.
He said he is not aware of any Hawaii-based funeral homes or commercial businesses involved in burial-at-sea operations, because he has never received a report from any such business.
Regarding cremated remains, EPA rules state they also should be released at least three nautical miles out to sea, and notification afterward is required.
Meanwhile, the EPA leaves it up to the state to regulate the waters within three nautical miles.
The state Department of Health allows scattering of human ashes within three nautical miles without any special permit or notification required.
That's because cremated remains are not considered a health hazard, said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
The department just asks that "whomever is scattering, to please be considerate of others in the area."
If you have additional questions, contact Chief Petty Officer Marsha Delaney of the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii, at 541-2053.
The Coast Guard will do a committal ceremony out to sea, but so far, it is only done so for cremated remains.
In the 20 years she has been in the Coast Guard, "we have not committed a body," Delaney said.
"Also, the big thing is that we don't take the families" out for the committal, she emphasized.
Got a question or complaint?
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