BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) In early September, photos of black smoke coming from the Sheridan Park Crematory led the DEC to suspend its operations and slap a notice of violation on the Amigone Funeral Home which operates it.

But on that same day, September 9, a neighbor of the Buffalo Cremation on West Delavan Avenue also captured images of black smoke coming from that facility across from Forest Lawn Cemetery. It was the second time someone captured video of black smoke there in 3 weeks.

That facility declined an interview but shared with us this video of what the inside looks like.
Through a Freedom of Information request News 4 obtained the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Notice of Violation to Joe Dispenza, president of Buffalo City Cemetery, who told the DEC that the most likely cause of the black smoke was from burning the “disaster strength” or “crash strength” body pouches, made of thicker materials and are now being used since the COVID crisis has depleted the supply of the lighter and thinner body pouches.

“It became a distribution issue,” said David Fleming, who represents the NYS Association of Cemeteries and says cremations are up more than 30% this year statewide.

Fleming also says crematory operators are not allowed to open up the pine boxes and see what kind of body bag is inside. “So there can be instances where those remains are delivered to crematories in these heavy crash bags and the crematory operators would have no idea that these heavy rubberized containers were included and it does cause a buildup of black smoke at times because of this heavy plastic material. It’s unfortunate but it has happened at times around the state.”

Since the notice of violation, the Buffalo Crematory planted twenty-foot pine trees to act as a buffer to the neighboring homes which are less than 100 feet from the smokestacks.

The DEC did not suspend operations at Buffalo City Crematory because the department says…’Mr. Dispenza immediately established a new policy that every cremation case marked as homicide, accident or one believed to be a medical examiner case, must be cremated in (a more updated unit.)

The Notice of Violation goes on to say that ‘due to the world-wide demand for cremation units driven by the pandemic, (one of the current units) will be replaced with a (more modern) cremator by the end of January.

“Roughly 30% of the crematories in the state are going to be going on line in the next 5 years with all new equipment with even higher emissions standards and most of them already meet the requirements,” said Fleming.

DEC officials are still deciding whether or not to levy fines on both Buffalo City Crematory and Sheridan Park Crematory. Both investigations continue. Both operations turned down our request for an interview. They represent two out of 10 crematories which operate in WNY, in addition to 12 others which are permitted to burn animal remains like the SPCA in West Seneca.

”When you look at them, you might think that there’s smoke but they’re actually emitting heat out of the stacks,” said Fleming. “There may be some smoke based on how early in the day the cremation is occurring. I think when folks hear of random issues with an instance at a crematory, many of them can be directly pointed to what we’re experiencing during the pandemic and that’s been really factors outside the control of the crematory.”

The NYS DEC sent us this update on November 20;

“DEC continues to investigate violations at the Sheridan Park crematory and requires full compliance under all state air quality requirements to ensure public health and the environment are fully protected. Today, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is overseeing an operational evaluation of the cremation equipment at Sheridan Park Crematory at the Amigone Tonawanda Chapel, 2600 Sheridan Drive, Tonawanda.  Also present were crematory operators from Sheridan Park and the equipment manufacturer. 

The purpose of the operational evaluation was to demonstrate Sheridan Park’s cremation equipment would operate as intended by the manufacturer. It was the first time the machine has operated since Sept. 9, when DEC immediately responded to public reports of the black smoke emanating from the Sheridan Park Crematory smokestack and began an investigation. That investigation is ongoing. 

Other than today’s test, Sheridan Park is not performing cremations at this time. The facility will not resume cremations until DEC’s ongoing investigation is complete and upon full and complete demonstration that Sheridan Park undertakes required DEC-approved corrective measures.”