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Proposed crematorium in Oswego County sparks controversy

Erin Meyer
Riverside Cemetary, Scriba

A proposed crematorium at Riverside Cemetery in Scriba has generated some controversy among local residents. The independently-owned nonprofit isn’t making money the way it used to, because people aren't being buried the way they used to. More and more people are opting to be cremated, and the cemetery wants to cash in on that. The source of the controversy? Location.

Marcie Fylstra and her husband Hank live right next to Riverside. They’re not too keen on the crematorium, and not just for their own sakes. The cemetery is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Having a crematorium there would mean whatever emissions it creates would settle in that vicinity.  Most of those emissions are harmless, but not all of them.

“There’s a lot of land in this country,” Fylstra said. “Why on earth would you put a crematorium in the middle of a residential neighborhood with a lot of children and young mothers?”

SUNY Oswego professor Kestas Bendinskas has been working with concerned residents like the Fylstras to try and block the cemetery’s efforts to build a crematorium.

“Crematoriums...they emit mercury,” Bendinskas said. “And mercury is very harmful to children and fetuses.”

He’s done a lot of research into the effects of mercury on children. He says the mercury emitted from a crematorium would pose no risk to adults, but kids are a different story.

“The scientific consensus is that there is no safe low concentrations for children,” Bendinskas said. “It’s so toxic that it should be avoided at all costs. Even at very low concentrations, it affects development, neural system, heart, kidneys. All those systems are affected.”

But according to cemetery board member Adam Gagas, the emissions that would be generated from the crematorium would fall within state regulations

“New York State has pretty much the strictest environmental rules for crematoriums, and, you know, we didn't go into this project saying, “Well, first thing we should do is second guess the rules,” Gagas said.

Even if Riverside builds a crematorium, the revenue it generates still might not offset the cost of upkeep. And if the cemetery can’t support itself, it’ll go to the town—which creates a new set of complications.  

The Scriba planning board expects to vote on whether the crematorium can be built on May 9.