Environment

From Bodies to Rosebushes

By Josie GlausiuszOct 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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For the environmentally aware, death is the final indignity. A cemetery burial can take 50 years to decompose and can contaminate groundwater. Cremation pollutes the atmosphere with heavy metals and noxious gases. Biologist Susanne Wiigh-MŠsak has another way: Freeze-dry the body and turn it into fertilizer.

Wiigh-MŠsak, who runs an organic gardening center on the Swedish island of Lyr, came up with the idea while making compost. So far, she's tested her patented process only on parts of dead cows and pigs. First she steams the body to make it more porous. Then she immerses it in liquid nitrogen and blasts it with ultrasound to break the tissues into tiny particles that dry into a powder weighing less than one third as much as the original corpse. The whole process takes about two hours. For best results, Wiigh-MŠsak suggests burying the dust near the soil surface, where oxygen-loving microbes will degrade the remains within six months. "If you plant a rosebush together with this powder, you'll know that death makes new life possible," she says.

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