Update on Tuesday, January 16, 2024: The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed the planned demolition of Return to Nature funeral home. A new date has not been set.
Citing a dangerous buildup of hazardous material, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it would start demolition of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose by Jan. 17, 2024.
In October, police discovered 115 bodies improperly stored at the Fremont County funeral home following a report of a foul odor. The number was increased to “at least 189” later that month. The funeral home advertised “green” burials that didn’t use embalming chemicals or metal caskets.
EPA officials assessed the site and determined that demolishing the building was necessary to “safely remove all medical, biological, and hazardous materials found in the building.” The agency expects the project to take about 10 days.
Prior to demolition, the EPA and local health agencies will work to create safety measures at the site to limit risks to the public. The EPA plans to spray a disinfectant and odor suppressant before and during demolition.
“Once demolition begins, excavators will start to break up the building from the top down and remove large pieces of the structure, while working to keep it within the foundation footprint,” the EPA said on its website. “During this process, EPA will use water and other liquid solutions for dust suppression, but not in quantities that would cause runoff of contamination from the interior of the building to the ground surface outside.”
The EPA’s Emergency Response team will lead the cleanup effort, contracting with trained hazardous materials contractors.
The funeral home’s owners, Jon and Carie Hallford, appeared in court for the first time earlier this month. They face accusations of abusing corpses, theft, money laundering and forgery.
Investigators said they found the bodies of people who died as far back as 2019. Family members of the deceased were allegedly given substitute materials that were not their loved ones’ ashes.
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