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Life After Death



nonwovens are being put to good use in the mortuary industry



Published June 21, 2011
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Almost immediately after death, about three-quarters of a body turns to liquid. This natural decomposition makes the body appear less solid, which can pose a problem for funeral homes when arranging open-casket viewings and funerals. This chal- lenge led the Cincinnati Mortuary College, Cincinnati, OH, to ask for a sample of a powder product that National Sorbents, Cincinnati, OH, used during an environmental spill, according to Dan Jones, president and CEO of National Sorbents. “I took them to our lab and showed them how the product worked, but I had no idea what they were going to do with it,” he recalled. The next day the school representatives returned to ask for more of the product. “One day they came back and asked me if I had any idea what I had here and I said no,” Mr. Jones recollected. “They said they had been using it on cadavers and they could not believe how it worked during the embalming process.”

The proprietary powder product, which is marketed by the company under the “Dry ‘n Lock” brand name, is a cellulosic product mixed with a polymer that can get an extremely high volume of liquid into a small amount of product. According to Mr. Jones, the mortuary school tested the product by inserting it into the cavities of more than 600 bodies to control the amount of liquid that escaped during decomposition. “When we realized what they were trying to do, we suggested making them a tampon-type product that they could insert into the orifices of the body—throat, vaginal cavity, rectum—where they could just block off this liquid because the more liq- uid the product absorbs, the tighter it seals,” Mr. Jones explained.

National Sorbents uses its envi- ronmental products containing a spunbonded nonwoven casing to make the plugs. According to Mr. Jones, the nonwoven material controls the size of the product. “If we decide we want to make something that is a half-inch diameter, we can control that size because the nonwo- ven doesn’t grow or expand; it just works exactly the way we want it to,” he detailed. While National Sorbents does produce some envi- ronmental products with woven cas- ings, it exclusively uses nonwovens in its mortuary products. “We wouldn’t consider using anything else other than the nonwoven in the mortuary world because it works so well and it gets us exactly what we want and we can predict what it’s going to do,” he added. “Our prod- ucts will not decompose because polypropylene is almost impervious to decomposition. By retaining that moisture in the body, they just pro- long the decomposition process.” The product also will not desorb whatev- er liquid absorbs from the body. “Even if you apply pressure, heat or anything to the body, the product will never desorb,” Mr. Jones stated. Additionally, the body inserts help to protect the living from infectious diseases that did not die with the person. "Most people think when you die you die, but part of you doesn’t. The body can still retain certain diseases such as hepatitis after death,” Mr. Jones said. “We control things like that through the use of our product so there is not nearly as great of a risk.”

Through its Mortuary and Allied Health Division, National Sorbents began research and development in the mortuary industry five years ago and has been actively marketing its products for two years. While the company has focused primarily on the U.S., it has recently begun breaking into the global market- place. According to Mr. Jones, the company has entered talks with a large Japanese trading company to begin marketing its mortuary prod- ucts in Japan. Currently in Japan, dry ice is placed in a casket with the body to freeze it forever. The problem now, according to Mr. Jones, is that the dry ice gives off carbon dioxide, causing environmental problems in densely populated areas such as Tokyo. “The Japanese community is now saying it can’t do this anymore because the air pollution is too great,” he added. “They are now rethinking their position on rebalm- ing bodies.” National Sorbents is also beginning to market into Europe.
rnIn addition to post mortem embalming, National Sorbent’s research has helped it develop tis- sue organ donor embalming kits. Although there is currently a great need for bone, tissue and organ donors, many survivors of the deceased do not want these items harvested from the body before the viewing because of the physical harm harvesting can do to the corpse, Mr. Jones said. “We started to build a product that could replace bone, tissue and organs,” he explained. “When they take an arm or leg bone out, they just take our product and sew it into the place where the leg bone came from. As it absorbs the liquid in the body, it actually becomes very rigid and the body looks very natural when being viewed.”

The donation product, which also includes the Dry ‘N Lock prod- uct within a spunbonded casing, has also been used to rebuild a body that has suffered a massive trauma or accident.
rnOther offerings included in National Sorbents product portfolio include spherical inserts for the replacement of the brain, as well as casket liners. “The liners have exactly the same product composi- tion, but just fashioned differently (24 inches wide and 76-78 inches long),” Mr. Jones detailed. “It keeps the casket very dry and allows for natural decomposition without the chance of a casket having any internal damage.”

Additionally, the company has begun producing liners for body- bags, which typically cost $125-150, reusable. “The user puts the non- woven liner in, puts the body in, zips it up and takes it away,” Mr. Jones stated. “When they take the body out, the bag is saved and the liner is the only thing that is thrown away because it absorbs all the liquid.” The company has also started selling the liners to emer- gency medical crews to use on gur- neys. “If a crew picks up somebody off the street and takes them to the morgue, its ambulance is out of service for four to six hours while the crew cleans everything up,” Mr. Jones said. “If one of these liners is put down to absorb liquid, the crew can save time and get back into action pretty quickly.”

A Joyous Occasion

For the future, National Sorbents will begin marketing its products for applications that deal with life rather than death. For example, cer- tain hospital applications need a product that can soak up a great deal of liquid. “In hospitals the bloodiest thing that goes on there is birth,” Mr. Jones explained. “What they do now is take sheets and stuff them up underneath the woman who is giving birth. The massive amount of liquid that comes out is absorbed by the sheets, which are then laundered. There’s still a mess to be cleaned up. Our big pillows can be placed underneath the woman to absorb everything in the world that comes out during birth.” Afterwards, the pillow can be picked up and dis- posed of properly.

Mr. Jones also stated the compa- ny is beginning to see more interest from nursing homes. While these new product avenues are growth potentials, Mr. Jones sees even more growth opportunities within the mortuary industry for both National Sorbents and the nonwovens indus- try as a whole. “In the mortuary world, I think you’re going to start seeing more and more nonwoven products with absorbent materials used inside caskets,” he concluded. “I think you’re going to see things used in the morgues and autopsy rooms.”