Environmental Considerations for Common Burial Site Selection After Pandemic Events

Williams, Anna orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5237-857X, Temple, Tracey, Pollard, Simon J., Jones, Robert J. A. and Ritz, Karl (2009) Environmental Considerations for Common Burial Site Selection After Pandemic Events. In: Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics. Springer, London, UK, pp. 87-101.

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Official URL: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/18882/


In light of the increasing threat of an avian flu pandemic in the UK, the Home Office have been investigating a range of methods for managing the potential problem of excess deaths that could exceed the capabilities of existing burial and funeral facilities. There is currently unprecedented pressure on the Government to find an environmentally, ethically, socially and economically sound solution to the problem of disposal of bodies. The use of common burials or mass interments has been mentioned as a possible means for disposal of the ?excess deaths? that may be manifest. This chapter examines the potential environmental considerations and consequences of the development and utilisation of such mass burials in both the short and long term. Structured risk management approaches, including source-pathway-receptor analysis of the potential hazards, are reviewed. Such research is informed by previous incidents such as the UK Foot and Mouth Crisis of 2001, where large numbers of animal carcasses were buried in mass graves that would be analogous to those after a human pandemic in terms of environmental impact. It also draws from previous environmental waste management research and strategies that are in place to mitigate the environmental impact of other large waste disposal mechanisms, such as landfill sites. Factors which should be considered when selecting a site for the purpose of constructing large common burial pits such as body decomposition, soil characteristics, the potential for groundwater contamination, vegetation and ecology, and the practicality of implementing contingency or mitigation measures are reviewed. Some recommendations are given for common grave site selection through analysis of soil characteristics, the application of soil databases, and how existing taphonomic knowledge may inform these issues.

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