Nowadays, it is no longer uncommon to see people with implants. Implants are as commonplace as the daily newspaper, but have you ever wondered what happens to these implants when there is no longer any need for them – often because of the owner’s demise? This is an incredibly common issue as there is a litany of replacement parts offered by modern medicine, from metal hips, joints and shoulders to whole limbs. What happens to these enhancements when the person dies, and do they pose any hazard during cremation?
Types of Implants
Devices such as breast implants and replacement hips tend to be left in the body after death because there is no persuasive reason to do so and they do not pose a threat to the environment. However, it is an entirely different story for cremation. Silicone implants may burn up in the furnace, but not the metal implants. There is no hazard during cremation, but these metal implants are separated from the ashes and disposed of separately.
After cremation and metal implants such as plates, screws, steel hips and other materials are collected, they are sent off for recycling. You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that these metal parts do not end up with other people.
Metals of high-value which survive the 1000-degree cremation are then sold and often used in the aeronautical and automobile industries. Cobalt, mainly, is used in aircraft engines. Other less valuable metals as smelted down and sold for more general use such as motorway barriers and lamp posts. Cremation and metal implants sent off for recycling help ensure that nothing goes to waste. In recent years, numerous enterprising organizations have stepped in to recycle these materials. Most of them do not make a profit, but they try to give up to 75% of what it brings back to the crematoria for charitable purposes.
ICDs and pacemakers, on the other hand, are often taken out of the body after death and before the cremation process because the batteries, when heated, can explode. The same thing goes for spinal cord stimulators which treat pain and other types of internal pumps for drug administration because the also contain electronics.
Once removed, they are typically discarded both in the United States and the European Union, which have rules against the reuse of implanted medical devices.
However, they can be sanitized and recently the FDA has approved reuse. Many recycled pacemakers have been sanitized, refurbished, and used in Africa and other impoverished nations.
Before these recycling companies started operating, many crematories had no idea what to do with the leftover metal. Some of them would leave the metal parts in the box and bury them in the ground. Recycling seems the most promising solution to these unwanted parts because it not only has an environmental benefit, it also has a financial one. Most people do not want any profit from recycling; they would instead donate the money earned.