Threat of exploding coffins has citizens in a spin

2011-05-07 20:13

The spectre of exploding coffins full of decomposing bodies is causing grave concern in an upmarket Pretoria suburb.

Now the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development is being sued for its decision to allow a mausoleum to be built at Rietvlei.

Resident Dr Isaac Adriaan van Niekerk dislikes the idea of a mausoleum filled with 24 000 caskets – half the number of spectators that can fit into Loftus Stadium – so much that he is asking the Pretoria High Court to bury the project.

He is complaining of, among other things, the expected “foul odours”?emanating from what he views as a “little house of horrors”.

It is also no consolation for him that the company, Basfour 3512 Pty Ltd, promised to use sealed caskets.

This, he states, could only lead to the terrifying phenomenon known in the undertaker trade as “exploding casket syndrome”.

To prevent this, the caskets have to be fitted with “pressure release valves” to relieve the “pressure cooker” effect. The valves would only worsen the foul odours, the doctor declared in his court papers.

MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza noted in correspondence submitted to court that there was a need for more cemetery space in the province and that the private mausoleum may alleviate the problem.

But Van Niekerk argues that government was “negligent and irrational” in giving the green light to the project.

He quotes exhaustively from studies and articles on this “ineffective and traumatic burial option”, which means that bodies are kept in crypts above ground.

Van Niekerk’s research paints a grim picture of 25 litres of fluid remaining after each body has decomposed.

He said that “leakages” of these fluids may contaminate ground water and the Rietvlei Dam, which provides more than 20% of the drinking water for the Tshwane region.

According to Van Niekerk’s environmental experts, the geological features of the area are also unsuitable for these purposes.

Government said in turn that it has considered all these factors. It is a condition that the company plants trees around the perimeter so that the space is “easier” on neighbours’ eyes.

Basfour was also ordered to place absorbing materials around the caskets and crypts to prevent leakage.

Government and Basfour still have to indicate whether they want to oppose the application before a trial date can be set.

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