Plans to spend £2.9m to reduce mercury emissions from crematoria in Leeds should take a step closer to becoming a reality following a key meeting tomorrow.
Ten years ago Government passed legislation requiring that at least 50 per cent of mercury emissions from crematoria should be abated before December 31 next year.
And eight years ago Leeds City Council was asked, along with other authorities, what its intentions were on installation of abatement equipment.
The council replied that it would comply with the 50 per cent figure by the end of next year and its executive board is due to recommend that work on upgrading crematoria in the city should go ahead.
A preferred contractor has now been identified for the scheme at Rawdon which will cost almost £1.5m for the installation of three new cremators with mercury filtration equipment.
A report says the work will involve the removal of the existing cremators and the installation of a cold room facility for the storage of coffins.
There will also be an upgrading of the electrical supply, construction works in the basement area and upgrading of music systems.
The report warns: “There is no room for slippage if abatement equipment is to be installed by the 2012 deadline.”
Regarding the potential disruption caused while the works are installed it adds that “to keep this as low as possible, the preferred contractor has stated that they will be able to keep the crematorium operational on two cremators throughout the contract period.
“However, there may be a maximum of three days where this may not be possible.
Once the work at Rawdon is complete, it will carry out 2,800 cremations a year. It is proposed to upgrade Cottingley crematorium in 2016 and Lawnswood in 2018.
An environmental surcharge on cremations was introduced in 2008 to meet the cost of the improvements. T
The UK is taking the lead on mercury reduction globally and local authorities across the country are taking action to reduce emissions.
Mercury emissions have no significant effect on the environment locally, but there is concern that they may have a cumulative effect nationally when they enter the food chain, particularly when absorbed by fish which are then eaten.
People, particularly pregnant women, are advised to avoid eating foods with high levels of mercury because of the potential harmful effect.
Historically, mercury had a range of uses, particularly in dental fillings which is why, when bodies are cremated, low levels of mercury are released into the atmosphere.
Coun Adam Ogilvie, executive member responsible for leisure, (including cemeteries and crematoria), said: “These works are vital if we are to meet the European targets to reduce the amount of mercury emitted by our crematoria.
“This investment is necessary to ensure we are not forced to close our crematoria in the future when the legislation comes in place in December 2012.
“Should this get the go ahead we will be announcing our preferred contractors next month with a view to starting on site in August. The works should be completed by June next year.
“We will be working with the contractors to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum, and no major closure of the crematorium is anticipated.”
The council is anxious to make sure that it makes every effort to meet the Government’s target. Cremations account for 83 per cent of funerals in Leeds compared to 72 per cent nationally and the figure is expected to increase as the population rises.
Leeds City Council is the fifth largest burial authority in the country, dealing with about 5,600 cremations and approximately 1,250 burials every year.