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Pandemic Planning

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Over the recent months the outbreak of the Coronavirus has had a significant impact on all of us, putting strain on every aspect of our day to day work and personal life.

The outbreak has highlighted the need for all Local Authorities to have upto date Pandemic Plans to identify how potentially increased burial rates and in the worst case mass burials can be dealt with both in an operational sense and ensuring that the environmental regulations associated with burial are adhered to.

It should be understood that pandemic burials, simply does not mean ‘mass burials’ but is associated with an increase in the number of burials undertaken over a given time frame, which exceed the norm.

Pandemic burial sites are required to meet more stringent environmental criteria due to the significant impact that a high number of burials over a small area and timescale will have on groundwater quality.

A recently published government document ‘Managing the Deceased in a Pandemic’ in March 2020, sets out the requirements for a pandemic burial site:

Environmental impact of normal cemeteries is assessed based on an annual average burial rate. While a site might be suitable for 10 burials a year it might not be suitable for a higher burial rate as in an excess deaths scenario. Therefore, all sites should be environmentally screened in advance of a pandemic.

Burial plots should be at least 250m away from a borehole, spring or well used for the supply of water for human consumption or used in food production and/or bottling of mineral water.

In addition a burial site must be outside a groundwater Source Protection Zone 2 (SPZ2). However, considering the high number of burials over a short space of time this protective radius is likely to be extended. The EA’s Groundwater Protection Policy designates different Source Protection Zones. The Cemeteries and Burials: Prevent Groundwater Pollution Guidance 2017 specifies in addition to the above that the minimum requirements are:

  • Burial plots should be at least 50m away from all other boreholes, springs or wells;
  • Burial plots should be at least 50m away from a river, canal, lake, wetland or the coast;
  • Burial plots should be at least 10m away from field drains (this also includes old agricultural drainage systems no longer in use as they can act as preferential pathways);
  • If bedrock is encountered in the trial pit, that area of the site should not be used for burials;
  • The area of the site is not suitable for burial if there is standing water at the bottom of the burial pit when first dug or the area is susceptible to groundwater flooding;
  • There should be no sand and gravel at the bottom of the burial pit; and
  • There should be at least 1m of subsoil below the base of the lowest coffin.

It is therefore important than the Local Authorities carefully consider the suitability of a burial ground before classifying it as a pandemic site, as well as considering the suitability of existing site if burial numbers increase significantly above the normal.

CDS are happy to offer advice and assistance where we can in helping Local Authorities understand the suitability of site as well as answering any question they may have under confidentiality.

If your members wish to contact us, please ask them to use the form below and we will do our best to assist.

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