Questions and answers in relation to the environmental impacts from an increased number of human burials – last updated 29/04/2020
What risks do cemetery sites present?
Cemetery sites can impact the environment, human health and the local economy. A large number of burials in a short time period, including a pandemic, can pollute the local water environment, in particular, the groundwater underlying the site. Groundwater is used as a drinking water supply (especially in rural areas) as well as for the food and beverage production in the agri-food industry. If polluted groundwater is consumed through food or drink it can cause ill health.
How can cemetery sites pollute groundwater?
A body and coffin will decay which results in polluting fluids being released and moving downwards to the underlying groundwater. The shorter the time over which burials occur and the higher the number of burials the more groundwater pollution can occur. The amount of polluting fluids below the burial sites and in the groundwater will decline with time and distance from the burial.
If my private water supply is close to a graveyard, is it safe?
The distance of any cemetery in relation to a private water supply should be considered at planning stage to ensure there is a minimal risk of contamination. This can be further minimised by ensuring that you have good source protection. There may be a risk of pollution of groundwater from fluids released from burial sites containing chemicals which can cause health impacts. The amount of these chemicals can decide if a water supply is safe for consumption or not. The amount of polluting fluids below the burial sites and in the groundwater will decline with time and distance from the burial. If you are concerned about the safety of your private supply, you should use an alternative supply of water such as mains water from NI Water, or bottled water. Further information and advice is available from the Drinking Water Inspectorate on 028 9056 9282 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org as well as the Land and Groundwater Team.
What groundwater advice does DAERA give Local Councils on planned cemetery sites?
DAERA is a statutory consultee to the local Planning Authorities advising planners on their responsibilities under The Planning (General Development Procedure) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015, which includes the protection of the water environment from cemetery sites.
Who do I contact if I have concerns about the extension of an existing cemetery site?
You should contact the Planning Office within your Local Council
I want to make an application to extend a cemetery site what should I do?
For site specific geological and hydrogeological information for cemetery applications you may wish to contact Mark Cooper (email@example.com) and Derek Reay (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland.
Where can I find out more about groundwater?
There are several resources for groundwater and hydrogeology online. For example:
- What is groundwater - DAERA webpage
- Geological Society London, primary school
- Geological Society London, secondary school/ teachers
- UK Groundwater Forum: http://www.groundwateruk.org/
e-book called “Groundwater our hidden asset”.