Environmental damage and public health threat caused by cemeteries: a proposal of ideal cemeteries for the growing urban sprawl

Abstract Growing urban land development has led to a reduction in the space available for cemeteries and the juxtaposition of residential and cemeterial areas, further raising the polluting potential of the latter. The present case study sought to assess levels of physicochemical and microbiological contamination in the Central Cemetery of Marau (RS/Brazil), and propose vertical cemetery deployment as a way to reduce necroleachate-linked pollution impacts. The following information was collected from 43 additional rural cemeteries: number of tombs, graves, chapels, and small vertical constructions with drawers, state of conservation and cleanliness and total area and perimeter of the cemetery. Eighty professionals of environmentally sustainable urban planning from four countries (20 Brazilians, 20 American, 20 Portuguese and 20 Japanese) were interviewed regarding the ‘ideal cemetery’. Various risks of cemetery soil contamination were identified, particularly high amounts of heterotrophic microorganisms, especially fecal coliforms associated with burial sites. In order to avoid contamination risks to environment and population, the mplemention of a vertical model of cemetery is proposed.