Formaldehyde restricted across Europe

The UK funeral profession has three years to seek alternatives to formaldehyde or change how it approaches viewing the deceased, after the European Parliament voted in favour of adding formaldehyde to its list of restricted carcinogens and mutagens.

Formaldehyde, used in embalming fluid, has been linked to cancer as well as being an irritant. The European Commission expects the five chemicals it has restricted to prevent more than 22,000 work-related illnesses over 50 years, and improve conditions for over a million workers across Europe.

UK MEP Anthea McIntyre secured a three year delay on banning the substance so funeral directors could adjust. She said: “This new legislation is well meant, but I don’t think officials in Brussels realised quite how big the impact would be on Britain.”

The BBC has noted that, under the UK’s current plans to remain in the EU single market for 21 months after Brexit, “the Government would be expected to transpose the directive into UK law within a strict time limit”.

Restricting formaldehyde could have major repercussions for viewing bodies, as the profession estimates at least half of bodies are embalmed for viewings.

Earlier this year, funeral director Inez Capps reported for SAIFInsight on the issues that lowering the allowable amount of formaldehyde would have on the funeral profession (issue 202, July 2018), including retraining embalmers. The NAFD said that removing it entirely would require the UK to “change the culture around funerals”, calling embalming “the only realistic solution that will delay deterioration”.

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