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More funeral directors pursue plans to perform services on-site

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Drew Gilbert, director of Gilbert Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc. in Boston, PA shows off his newest crematory Tuesday February 5, 2013. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Drew Gilbert, director of Gilbert Funeral Home and Crematory Inc. in Boston, shows some of the urns they have in stock on Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013, including this motorcycle gas tank inspired urn from Hog Heaven. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

As more families choose to cremate loved ones, more funeral directors are pursuing plans to perform the service on-site.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 42 percent of people choose cremation each year. That number is expected to grow to 56 percent by 2025.

Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, attributes the rise to five factors: cost savings, flexibility, environmental impact, geography and religious acceptance.

“Some people see a better value in cremation,” she said.

Crematories must comply with state and federal health and safety standards and local zoning laws and ordinances. Though many use a third party for cremation, directors say there are benefits to offering it where they conduct viewings and services.

“People want to know where their loved ones are at any point in the process,” Kemmis said.

Local laws, however, don't always allow in-house cremation.

In January, Peters council passed an ordinance allowing crematories in parts of the township that are zoned light industrial.

That applies to an area off of Valley Brook Road west of Route 19 and an area off Valley Brook along Chartiers Creek. But it does not include the Washington Road site of Cremation and Funeral Care by Danielle Andy Belusko, which opened last year and petitioned Peters to add a crematorium.

The township denied the request, and the funeral home sued Peters. The case is pending in Washington County Common Pleas court.

Such restrictions are common, said Kemmis.

“It is emotional,” she said. “ ‘In my backyard' is a very strong sentiment. ... There's a lot of misinformation out there.”

When plans for a crematory are announced, people often are concerned about emissions, particularly of mercury, which can come from dental fillings.

In Peters, some neighbors publicly expressed concern about emissions of heat and odors, as well.

In Western Pennsylvania, the state Department of Environmental Protection and Allegheny County Health Department regulate crematory operations and have strict regulations about emissions to ensure public health, its representatives say.

In Allegheny County, there are 18 crematories, three of which opened in the past two years. Six are for pets.

“We rarely receive complaints about any of the crematories,” said Guillermo Cole, health department spokesman. If one is received, Cole said the department investigates and ensures the crematory is operating properly.

In the past five years, the DEP's southwest region has seen an increase from nine crematories under permit to 14, said spokesman John Poister.

He said violations of emission regulations are rare in the region, with none reported in the past year.

Crematory applicants must provide a letter to the DEP from the host municipality and a letter from the county stating the crematory is consistent with comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances.

Frank Siffrinn, municipal manager in North Strabane, where Woodruff Partners pet crematory is located off Route 19, said the township's zoning ordinance allows crematories in agricultural districts. But because they are special exceptions, the zoning hearing board had to approve crematory plans.

“There is nothing around them, anyway, so it worked out well,” Siffrinn said, adding there was “no controversy whatsoever.”

Drew Gilbert, owner of Gilbert Funeral Home & Crematory in the Boston section of Elizabeth Township, opened his first crematory in the existing funeral home in 1997.

He opened a second one at the same location in 2003 to meet demand. His business is in a residential area, but getting permission from the township and county did not require special ordinances, he said. Today, he also serves other funeral homes.

“Fifty percent of families who call us chose cremation,” he said.

Several funeral homes that used Gilbert's services have gone on to open their own on-site crematories, he said.

Jobe Funeral Home and Crematory opened a crematory in its funeral home in Turtle Creek's business district two years ago. It did not generate any complaints, said James Jobe, owner and funeral director.

“As time goes on in the industry and more and more people choose cremation, more (funeral homes) are going to own their own crematories,” he said.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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