Air quality officials extend removal of cremation limits, expand order to Orange County

The Oaks Chapel sits at the entrance of Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal
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An anticipated surge in deaths in Los Angeles County has prompted air quality officials to extend the removed environmental limits on the number of cremations that can be done monthly countywide. 

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials announced Monday they have extended the emergency order in L.A. County and expanded it to include Orange County through at least Feb. 4. The first order was triggered on Jan. 17. 

The move comes as the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner and the Orange County Health Care Agency have confirmed that an urgent need for additional human crematory services is still needed due to high numbers of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to see a large number of decedents countywide with increases in the number of decedents being held at our office and by area hospitals,” Sarah Ardalani, coroner public information officer, said Thursday via email. “As a result, we respectfully requested an extension of the order.”  

The coroner anticipates another surge due to the New Year’s holiday, “since deaths tend to occur four to six weeks after gatherings, and the capacity of the decedent management system, including hospitals, funeral homes, crematoria and the coroner’s office, is being exceeded,” read the order. 

As of Jan. 15, more than 2,700 bodies remained stored at hospitals and the coroner’s office, the order added. 

The extension aims to assist with the backlog caused by the COVID-19 crisis but “the growing backlog of cremation cases within each county constitutes a threat to public health,” according to air quality officials, who added that all other terms and conditions of the permit and rule requirements remain in effect.

Cremations result in the emission of various air contaminants that are required to be vented to air pollution control equipment. South Coast AQMD requires that crematories use a high-temperature process that destroys most of the pollutants created during the cremation process. When these technologies are implemented, emissions are minimized, officials said. 

The move came the same day California lifted the regional stay-at-home-order, which L.A. County officials have since aligned with and allowed for limited reopenings. Meanwhile, COVID-19 deaths in the county continue to remain high, with more than 200 deaths reported in a day for several days in January. On Wednesday, the county reported 307 new deaths. 

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