Why are funeral homes a concern?
Funeral homes perform services that involve health and safety concerns for their employees. One of the main health concerns at funeral homes is exposure to formaldehyde.
Funeral homes use formaldehyde in embalming. Formaldehyde is listed as a human carcinogen in the Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because it causes cancer of the throat, nose, and blood. It is also a volatile organic compound.
Proper ventilation is the most effective way to control exposure to formaldehyde in embalming rooms. Personal and respiratory protective equipment is also required to reduce exposure to formaldehyde.
It is important to understand that formaldehyde as it is used in funeral homes poses no danger to people attending funerals. Potential risks from formaldehyde are to funeral home employees only.
Funeral homes use glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and phenol as preservatives and disinfectants. They use solvents such as methyl alcohol, glycerol, perchloroethylene (PERC), trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. Trichloroethylene is listed as a human carcinogen, and perchloroethylene is listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in the Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program. Moisturizing agents include glycerine, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol. Sodium phosphate and sodium citrate are used to stabilize embalming solutions.
Funeral home employees can also be exposed to bloodborne pathogens that can cause disease. At times, employees must wear personal and respiratory protective equipment when they work with potential hazards, such as bloodborne pathogens, preservatives, and disinfectants. Respiratory protective equipment can prevent exposure to respiratory hazards such as flu viruses, bacteria, and organic vapors.
Other concerns at funeral homes include the need for proper ventilation and disposal of medical waste, solid waste, and wastewater. Wastewater and hazardous waste disposal practices must comply with state and federal regulations.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Morticians and Embalmers. Haz-Map Occupational Health Info (National Library of Medicine)
OSHA Compliance Guidance for Funeral Homes (Georgia Institute of Technology) (PDF — 281.38 KB)
Chemicals in Funeral Homes
Are these chemicals in MY community?
Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Last Updated: November 28, 2016