For two months now, Jeff Edwards, the funeral director at Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, has been disposing of bodies using alkaline hydrolysis, or liquid cremation, a process that uses lye and high temperatures to liquefy human remains. But last week, state officials told him that it "is not an authorized form of disposition of a dead human body," according to The Columbus Dispatch, which first reported the story.
The practice is widely used by veterinarians across the country but isn't approved for use on human remains in any state.
Baugess said the state warned Edwards that the process wasn't approved under the law. "There's no oversight of that process. It's not necessarily the process itself that we have a problem with, it's simply that there's no regulation." She declined to say whether the state planned to revoke Edwards' funeral license.
Edwards, however, said the state never explicitly told him to stop using the process. "They did not tell me to stop doing it," Edwards told The Dispatch. But, he said, "the fact I cannot get a [burial] permit effectively means I cannot do it." The funeral director said he plans to sue the state for banning him from using liquid cremation.
The practice may sound grisly, but advocates say alkaline hydrolysis is more eco-friendly than traditional -- and legal -- methods such as cremation.
The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota uses the process to dispose of cadavers that have been donated to be used for medical research. Terry Regnier, director of anatomical services at the Mayo Clinic, said alkaline hydrolysis has been hugely useful.
"There's an environmental benefit to the machine in that the heat sterilizes the remains," Regnier told AOL News in a phone interview today. "With fire-cremation, there's no way to control the contaminants." Regnier said the clinic has disposed of about 600 cadavers so far using alkaline hydrolysis. "There's no really pretty way to exit the planet," he said. "But I'd use this on my mom or dad."
The liquid remains are eventually disposed down the drain, but a Columbus Public Utilities Department spokesman told The Dispatch that the department inspected Edwards' facility and didn't find that it was violating any alkalinity sewage limits.
Edwards did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AOL News today.