No, ‘water cremation’ does not recycle bodies into drinking water

March 27, 2023 GMT

CLAIM: Dead bodies are being liquified and fed to the living through a process called aquamation.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation, is an alternative to cremation that uses water to break down the body. It leaves behind only fragments of bones and teeth, as well as a sterile liquid solution. The fragments are typically pulverized and given to the family of the deceased, while the liquid is generally sent to a wastewater treatment facility, a system separate from one that is used to produce clean tap water.

THE FACTS: Video clips circulating on social media in recent days erroneously claim that alkaline hydrolysis, often colloquially called“water cremation,” is being used to sneak liquified dead bodies into the water supply.

The clips feature people with metal tanks that are used in the process, as well as an animation of a body being dissolved down to its skeleton in a large tube filled with water. A caption mimicking the design of a news broadcast reads: “Breaking News: The Dead are Liquified and Fed to the Living.”

Ominous music plays in the background while a man’s voice narrates the clips.

“When they’re feeding the dead to the living, you know the end is near,” he says over one. “Check out this death chamber, this washing machine. They call it aquamation, where they liquify the dead and then dump the remains down the drain to be recycled into the municipal water supply. And so people are drinking it, they’re showering in it, they’re doing their laundry in it.”

In reality, alkaline hydrolysis is a method of cremation legal in more than half the states in the U.S., and experts and officials confirm there is no indication that any waste from the process has contaminated the country’s drinking water.

“EPA is not aware of any direct connections of untreated waste from alkaline hydrolysis cremation facilities directly into a drinking water plant,” Environmental Protection Agency Press Secretary Timothy Carroll told The Associated Press in an email. “EPA is also unaware of any alkaline hydrolysis byproducts, including the mineral constituents of bones and teeth, being used in any drinking water treatment process.”

When a body undergoes alkaline hydrolysis, it naturally decomposes more quickly than it would if left to its own devices. This is done through a machine that uses varying levels of heat, pressure and agitation on the body while it is submerged in a solution of water and alkaline chemicals.

The process leaves behind only fragments of bones and teeth and a sterile liquid solution composed of water, salt, sugars, fats, amino acids and peptides. The fragments are typically pulverized as ashes for the family, while the liquid solution is sent to a wastewater treatment facility through local systems. No DNA, RNA or hazardous chemicals remain, as everything in the body has been broken down into its natural elements, according to experts.

“With the process, what we’re doing is we’re replicating what happens naturally in the ground,” said Dean Fisher, who used the process during his 32 years leading body donation programs at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Mayo Clinic. “It’s all about, in funeral service we call it the body to bones process.”

Fisher, who is now a part owner in three businesses that offer alkaline hydrolysis, appears in the clips spreading on social media, in footage taken from a 2017 video for Wired magazine about the process.

Systems for treating wastewater — used water from toilets, sinks, showers and household appliances — are separate from those used to produce clean tap water. Some cities do have programs that turn wastewater into drinking water, noted Joe Wilson, CEO of Bio-Response Solutions, a company that produces alkaline hydrolysis technology. But the wastewater is treated first — the sterile liquid solution which results from the process would never go directly into the drinking water system.

Another Bio-Response Solutions employee — Sam Sieber, the company’s vice president of research — can also be seen in the misleading clips circulating on social media, taken from an interview conducted at the National Funeral Directors Association’s 2019 convention.

Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, described the false claims as “absurd and shocking and pointless.”

“Shame on these people purveying misinformation, because it becomes much more emotional because we’re talking about our dead,” she said. “And it’s just so difficult already, don’t prey on grieving people and make them question their choices for disposition and the businesses they’re working with. This is just wrong.”


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.