Air quality officials lift L.A. County cremation limits due to backlog

The Oaks Chapel sits at the entrance of Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

High figures of deaths in Los Angeles County during the COVID-19 crisis have triggered an emergency order that removed environmental limits on the number of cremations that can be done monthly. 

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials issued the order Sunday “to assist with the backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a news release. 

“The current rate of death is more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums exceeding capacity without the ability to process the backlog of cases,” officials said in the release. 

In the Santa Clarita Valley locations, including Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and local mortuaries, such as Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary and Crippen’s SCV Burial & Cremation Service, deaths have increased so much that they have run out of space to store the dead. The hospital has been using a backup morgue, while others have had to use out-of-house refrigerated storage containers. Crippen’s, which has a location in Canyon Country and La Crescenta, said their overall capacity is no more than 30 and their refrigerated storage can hold 18 bodies, according to funeral counselor Chris Reichman. 

“We’ve been having to turn families away. Compared to normal busy, we’re at least double what normal busy is,” Reichman said Tuesday. “We’re scared because I think we still have yet to see all the numbers from Christmas and New Year’s.” 

South Coast Air Quality Management District permits for crematoriums contain limits on the number of human remains that may be cremated each month, based on potential air quality impacts, but the limit was suspended “in order to protect public health and to respond to the current emergency,” officials said. 

Relaxing limits on the number of cremations could help alleviate the “unprecedented situation” many mortuaries and crematories are currently facing, said Reichman. 

Crippen’s, which uses an independent service for cremations, could cremate about four to six bodies in a day but the amount depends on weight, according to Reichman. 

“There’s not an exact science; every case is slightly different but if the number on how many can be cremated per day is relaxed that might help because (crematoriums) get to a point where they have to slow down and not cremate as many as they could when they reach a limit.” 

To date, the county has seen a total of 14,122 COVID-19 deaths, of which 159 were from the SCV. 

South Coast AQMD’s order is in effect through Jan. 27, and could be extended if warranted. An update is expected near the end of the week or early next week, according to Bradley J. Whitaker, the senior public information specialist. 

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS