Within a central cemetery in Marau, a tiny city in southern Brazil, there lie squat mausoleums that, from the street, appear clean and well-maintained.
However, after a team of researchers visited the site a few years ago, they discovered that one of the tomb’s walls had a crack. Inside that very same tomb was a newly deceased person, and the corpse was leaking.
Human bodies are primarily made of water, salts, and carbon. They also contain other compounds such as iron, potassium, and calcium.
After a person dies and their body begins to decompose, though, these components transform into “necroleachate”– a salty liquid that is about sixty percent water and forty percent organic compounds and salts.
For every fifteen to sixteen pounds of body weight, approximately one gallon of leachate is produced– and the liquid emits a foul and fishy smell.
In traditional cemeteries, this post-mortem liquid ultimately seeps into the ground. And in certain regions– especially those with sand or gravel soil– the leachate can actually contaminate groundwater.
So, in Marau, Brazil– where the climate is hot and humid– this reality is particularly alarming. According to one geographer at Brazil’s Faculdade Meridional, Alcindo Neckel, cemeteries are actually one of the most significant contamination issues.
Still, as the world’s population has ballooned over the past century, so has the need for cemeteries. In a 1998 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) even regarded the resting places as “special kinds of landfills.”
And like any other kind of landfill, cemeteries pose pollution risks. Yes, there is still a lack of comprehensive studies that have analyzed the potential environmental hazards.