Texas Funeral Service Commission addresses black smoke claims

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told us in an email that they received three formal complaints about the black smoke coming from the crematorium and conducted an investigation with assistance from the Laredo Health Department and Laredo fire marshal.
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 10:22 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - On Tuesday, we took an in-depth look at the black smoke seen coming from a crematorium in west Laredo.

We investigated and have more information to share surrounding concerns about the potential health and environmental risks.

“It’s not typical, let’s put it that way.”

Glenn Bower is the executive director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which oversees all funeral homes and crematoriums in the state.

He says he has seen the viral video footage posted to social media that shows an unusual amount of black smoke coming from South Texas Mortuary and Cremation Services on Santa Ursula Avenue.

Bower admits that a minute or two of black smoke is not unusual, but anything lasting longer than that is.

Video footage shows the smoke lasting for at least double that time.

“The increased number of families requesting cremation, the crematories are actually operating at a higher capacity, so they’re not having that ebb and flow as much to give those machines a rest,” said Bower.

A few residents who contacted KGNS say they have seen the black smoke for months.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told us in an email that they received three formal complaints on July 29 and conducted an investigation on July 30 with assistance from the Laredo Health Department and Laredo fire marshal.

The resident who took the video footage says he has not seen the smoke since July 29.

Bower, with the TFSC, says his office has not received any complaints through their formal complaint process, but they are in communication with the owners after hearing from concerned residents.

He says the owner was receptive to his suggestions to reach out to the machine manufacturer to ensure all equipment is up to standard.

Bower also understands that crematoriums across the country are overwhelmed due to the pandemic, which has put a strain on the incinerators, a possible explanation for the black smoke.

“I have a feeling that the black smoke that’s coming out is because the machine needs to be adjusted. It needs a tune up.”

Crematoriums are also under pressure to work on constricted timelines.

”My best suggestion is for everybody to almost take a pause, let’s make sure we’re doing things the right way and be patient with each other.”

The neighborhood surrounding the crematorium is where a few residents have complained of breathing problems from the smoke that they say has lasted for months. One resident who has an existing lung problem spoke to KGNS when visiting the crematorium earlier this week to tell us his concerns.

But the TFSC wanted to dispel a few of the misconceptions surrounding the smoke. They say contracting a disease, such as the coronavirus, from a deceased individual is extremely low.

As long as employees follow their training and wear proper personal protective equipment, the risk of exposure is eliminated.

- The agency says the smoke is not a health or environmental danger and is very unlikely to spread any virus particles in the air.

- Cremating human remains inside leak-proof containers such as body bags is permitted and regulated. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also confirmed this.

- The TFSC and TCEQ say they are continuing to investigate.

According to the crematorium owner, Mario Aguero, he says, “Cremations are doubling in the number now compared to before the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the crematorium also filed a criminal complaint with LPD for a trespassing incident.

Copyright 2020 KGNS. All rights reserved.

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