Natural Burials

Summary of research

We have undertaken four years of the most in-depth study into death practices. Here we counter some myths surrounding death.

Health issues

Natural Burial’s advisory board members with health expertise are:

    • Victor Klap, Chief Executive of the Independent Practitioners Association.
    • Tim MacKenzie, Wellington GP and member of the Wellington IPA (WIPA)
    • David Kerr, Christchurch GP, Chairman Ryman Healthcare, and past Deputy Chair Canterbury District Health Board.


There is no New Zealand law, by-law or regulation preventing any of the criteria and practices of natural burials and there is no requirement that bodies are embalmed.

  • New Zealand Burial and Cremation Act 1964
  • Wellington City Council Bylaws, Part 5: Cemetery and Cremation
  • All UK and US state law does not require embalming, management by a funeral director, or removal to a morgue. The few that state a period of time before disposition simply ask that it is “reasonable”

Dead people are not health hazards

Dead bodies pose no special or particular health risk in the first five days after death provided they are adequately refrigerated and there is no evidence of any significant ante-mortem infection.

  1. Professor Brett Delahunt, Chairman of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Email and verbal opinions to Natural Burials, November 2003
  2. Alex Dempster, a specialist pathologist with over 25 years experience in anatomic and forensic pathology, with extensive experience performing post mortem examinations. Email and verbal opinions to Natural Burials, November 2003
  3. Peter Browett, Professor of Pathology at Auckland University School of Medicine (North and South, July 2003, and verbal opinion, Nov. 2003).
  • Bacteriologic sterility found in dead bodies for up to 35 days after death
    1. Nehring, Sheridan, Funk, Alderton: Studies in Postmortem Bacteriology: Necropsy Sterility in three patients as long as thirty-five days post-mortem. Amer. J. Clin. Path. 55:12-16, 1971.
  • Bacteria do not persist in the bloodstream. Body tissue is sterile 24 hrs after death
    1. Gill CO, Penny N: Survival of bacteria in carcasses. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 37(4):667-9, 1979 Apr.

Environmental issues

    1. Embalmed bodies leach 40mg of formaldehyde effluent per litre of groundwater in the first year. There is no effluent release from a ‘green burial’, which are not a ‘source of formaldehyde pollution’.
    • Environment Agency – UK, National Groundwater and Contaminated Land Centre: Assessing the Groundwater pollution potential of cemetery developments. March 2002.
    1. Embalming fluids do contaminate cemetery soils and groundwater, but the magnitude of the impact is uncertain.
    • Young, C.P., Blackmore, K.M., Reynolds, P.J. and Leavens, A., (1999). Pollution Potential of Cemeteries, R & D Technical Report P223, 61pp. Environment Agency. ISBN 1857050215.
    • Van Haaren, F.W.J., (1951). Cemeteries as Sources of Groundwater Contamination. Water, 35(16), 167-172.
    • Pacheco, A., Mendes, J.M.B., Martins, T., Hassuda, S. and Kimmelmann, A.A., 1991. Cemeteries – A potential risk to groundwater. Water Science and Technology, 24: 97-104.
    • Chan, G. S., Scafe, M. and Emami, S., 1992. Cemeteries and groundwater: An examination of the potential contamination of groundwater by preservatives containing formaldehyde. Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Water Resources Branch Publication PIBS 1813, 11pp.
    • Dent, B. B. and Knight, M. J. K., 1998. Cemeteries: A special kind of landfill. Proceedings of the International Association of Hydrogeologists Conference on Groundwater Sustainable Solutions, Melbourne, Australia, February 8-13, 1998.
    • van der Honing, H., van der Ende, W. P. J., Brinkman, F. J. J. an Hooimeijer, A., 1988. The quality of surface water, drainage water and groundwater near cemeteries. H2O, 21 (12): 327-331.
    • Williams, M. J. and Konefes, J. L., 1992. Environmental concerns of older burial sites. The American Cemetery, February 1992, 22-24
    • Spongberg, A.L. and P. Becks. 2000. Organic Contamination in Soils Associated with Cemeteries. Journal of Soil Contamination 9(2):87-97.
    • Spongberg, A.L. and P. Becks. 2000. Inorganic Soil Contamination from Cemetery Leachate. Water, Air and Soil Pollution117:313-327.