An overflow crowd jammed into the Peters Township Council Chambers Monday night for a public hearing on the controversial zoning ordinance covering crematories in the township.
The ordinance amends "part seven" of conditional uses by adding crematories and provides specific conditions. The ordinance allows for crematories to be included as an allowable conditional use in the L1, or Light Industrial District, and sets regulations for their use. The ordinance has been recommended for approval by council by the township planning commission.
Out of the capacity crowd, 12 residents who had registered in advance to testify, presented their arguments, with the majority of them taking issue with guidelines outlined in the proposed ordinance.
"There are a number of things that would be worthwhile additions to the ordinance," said Povl Jorgensen, a resident of Prestonwood Lane. "Two of the most important issues are to add the requirement to provide for continuous monitoring for dioxin, like you have done for mercury, and do not permit parametric monitoring for mercury as the current draft now allows."
Jorgensen said that without continuous monitoring, data are not being recorded real time and are not available to demonstrate what the actual emission levels are. He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that continuous monitoring be required for both mercury and dioxins in Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators.
"Why not the same for body incinerators in Peters Township?" he asked.
Brett Englesberg, a resident and father of four children said he had "serious concerns" over the way the ordinance is written.
"I feel obligated to help protect the health, safety and welfare of my family and community,” Englesberg said.
He listed seven concerns over having a crematory in a light industrial location that included setback and distance from where one could be located within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood.
"The light industrial areas (of the township) are lower than the residential neighborhoods, so the emission of odor will rise straight into our homes. This will certainly put the health, safety and well-being of our community at risk, as well as lower our property values and force us to live with the odor of burning bodies," Englesberg said.
Several of the speakers were applauded by audience members after their testimony.
Cheryl Ferris also spoke to the concerns of proper monitoring of emissions.
"Certain chemicals can’t be completely destroyed by burning," she said. "Dioxins were a component of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and were found in the Love Canal. Dioxins can cause reproductive problems and also cause cancer."
Several speakers urged council to pass an air quality standards law rather than the conditional use ordinance to cover crematories. They cited an example of Kulpmont Borough, another community in Pennsylvania, saying the Peters Township is far weaker. The Kulpmont ordinance they claim imposes tougher standards and more stringent testing for air quality.
Some speakers expressed concern over the number of cremations per day permitted under the ordinance. In the proposed ordinance, a crematory "shall perform no more than 12 cremations a day." Hours of operation will be permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and chimneys in the free standing building "shall be at least 1.5 times the height of nearby structures."
The zoning ordinance also states that a crematory can provide a private viewing room of the cremation for family members and stipulates that it may not be used to conduct public or private funeral home services.
Resident Sean Perich said he was concerned because the proposed ordinance does not specify fines for violations.
"Even if the fine is $500 for each violation, if you’re burning 12 bodies a day at a thousand bucks, I would take that," he said. "With tougher fines like $10,000 a day for each violation and even jail time, you wouldn’t keep doing what you’re doing. You need continuous monitoring."
Perich said the proposed ordinance is not good enough.
"We have 21,000 people living in this township, and 5,100 of those are under the age of 18. It’s not good enough for my kids and not good enough for your kids. You should demand more," he told the audience.
Council members said that so far there have been no applicants for opening a crematory.
They will review all the testimony and are scheduled to take action at their meeting on Oct. 22.
"All of us are going to do what’s right for the township," said council President Robert Lewis. “I’m going to vote on what I think is in the best interest of the community."