Misinformation Can Lead to Disaster!
I recently had an interesting conversation with a Mid-States customer. She was not from the cremation profession; she was a dental laboratory owner. She knew we handled other professions but didn’t know how involved we are with death care until she found our cremation recycling specific website. The timing for her inquiry couldn’t have been better considering what’s going on with cremation metal recycling and all the misinformation out there. I want to share the interaction with you because I think the cremation profession can benefit greatly from it.
To give you some context, she has owned and operated a dental lab for 40+ years. The primary function of a dental lab is to create the dental prosthetics for patients of their dentists. When you need a crown for instance, your dentist will take an impression of the area that needs the crown. They then send that impression off to the lab to have the crown made. For decades, gold and palladium have been widely used in the alloys to make these prosthetics. For this reason, a dental lab owner/technician would be very knowledgeable about precious metals; specifically their melt temperatures and durability.
She started the call by telling me she recently had a family member pass away and they were cremated. She had intimate knowledge of the amount of gold in this person’s mouth because she made all of the prosthetics. When she asked the crematory about the process of recovering these dental pieces, she was told anything but the truth. It’s one thing for a customer to assume they know something and it’s vastly different when they definitely know something. In this case, she knew she was being misled.
When she asked what happens to the metal in their loved ones mouth, she was told, “it’s too small to survive the cremation process.” She knew this wasn’t true, so she decided to call another funeral home in her area to ask, generally speaking, what happened to the metal. They told her “if there is any gold, it just melts away and is gone when the cremation is complete”. Again, she knew this to be inaccurate.
After calling two more funeral homes in her area and getting the same sort of responses, she called me to ask what the deal was. Why were these funeral homes so confidently saying things that just weren’t true? She knows gold and palladium melt at close to 2,000 and 2,800 degrees respectively, and then once they’re brought back to room temperature they just harden. Precious metals don’t easily vaporize. For example, the boiling point for gold is nearly 5,000 degrees and palladium is just under 4,000 degrees. A cremator will never even come close to these temperatures. The only metals, for the most part, that a crematory may come in contact with that will potentially vaporize in the retort is zinc with a boiling point of 1660 degrees and mercury at 674. There are insignificant amounts of both, on average, in people’s teeth. There are no two ways about it - dental prosthetics survive the cremation process and are in the cremated remains after the cremation process is complete.
She called me because she realized we worked with crematories and knew from experience that we recycle precious metals from the dental profession. There was an obvious relationship.
I think I did a good job of tempering her frustration by letting her know that the vast majority of crematories we work with donate the money generated from recycling the metal. I also brought her up to speed in regard to how new this concept really is for most crematories. I asked her not to blast the crematories she spoke with on social media for a number of reasons, but mostly because in the court of public opinion, one bad apple does tend to spoil the bunch, and I know as a whole the crematory profession is doing the right thing.
To me, the obvious lesson to be learned is not to misinform the public by giving an incorrect response, but to research the topic and respond correctly. As it relates to this specifically I have always said it’s better to get out in front of the question. A typical response is
“It’s not practical for our facility to recover dental pieces individually to turn over to the family. Therefore, we send in all the metal to a trade recycler who adheres to EPA regulations and properly recycles all metal that is left behind after cremation. If there are any proceeds from recycling the metal, we donate that money to charity.”
Talk about the charities you support with post cremation metal recycling and don’t be afraid to disclose how much you give. This can be some of the best public relations you could ever have!
In the end, she and I had a great conversation that left her realizing how the process of allowing crematories to properly recycle the metal and donate the money to worthy causes was another meaningful act resulting from the tragedy of the death of their loved one.