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Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; Cremations: Dumping remains at nearest beach is getting out of hand, spurring common-sense guidelines.

COMMON SENSE should dictate how people dispose of the cremated remains of the deceased. Yet that quality seems to be in surprisingly short supply when it comes to spreading ashes on property belonging to the public or other private individuals.

To remedy this, the State Board of Morticians has produced a pamphlet for distribution this spring to Maryland's 1,400 licensed morticians and funeral directors. They intend to give it to families whose relatives have been cremated.

For residents of Venice on the Bay, this advisory is overdue. Last year, they regularly witnessed grieving families, dressed in their finest, arrive at their community beach in northern Anne Arundel County, presumably from a funeral, to spread the remains of loved ones. Residents felt this ritual was getting out of hand when one man dumped five gallons of ashes -- the remains of five bodies -- on the beach where they and their children stroll, play in the sand and swim in the summer.

Residents demanded action, but state and county officials found their hands tied. Maryland has few laws governing disposal of cremated remains. The state Department of Natural Resources has regulations against disposing of ashes in Chesapeake Bay within seven miles of a shoreline. Since the bay is about seven miles across at its widest point, people should not be spreading ashes on the bay from shore or from a boat.

Aside from that rule, it's up to the survivors' discretion. The morticians' board, looking after the industry's interests, suggests cremated remains be placed in a mausoleum, a requirement in many states but not in Maryland. Many survivors prefer to keep the urn on the fireplace mantel in their home.

For those who have ashes, perhaps the most sensible and respectful solution is to bury them and plant a tree there. They won't be disturbed and the disposal is unlikely to disturb anyone else.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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