No Lye

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

“In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.”
—Oscar Wilde, from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898)


So … why is the dead man “eaten by teeth of flame” in his grave in the Reading jail (gaol)?

It’s because back in the day, when convicts were executed in Merrie Olde England they were sometimes thrown into a pit of lye, which completly dissolved their bodies like a “burning winding sheet”. This was seen as the ultimate insult to someone who had so violently abrogated the norms of society.

Now, times change, but the old always seems to become new again, first as tragedy, then as farce. For the tragedy, in the last decade or so, the cartel assassins in Mexico have taken to using lye to dissolve the bodies of their victims. From Slate Magazine:

The assassins typically use sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, strong bases commonly known as lye. Heated to 300 degrees, a lye solution can turn a body into tan liquid with the consistency of mineral oil in just three hours. If your kettle isn’t pressurized, you won’t be able to heat the solution much above the boiling point of water, 212 degrees, and it might take an additional hour or two to complete the process. Narco-hit men did not pioneer this technique. Adolph Luetgert, known in his day as the “Sausage King of Chicago,” dumped his wife into a boiling vat of lye in 1897, then burned what was left. Police eventually found bone fragments in the factory’s furnace.

And now in 2017, history returns as farce—the State of California is looking to fight “climate change” in perhaps the most bizarre way to date:

They are proposing dissolving dead people’s bodies in a bath of lye.

lye 2According to the authors of the proposed law, this is to avoid putting CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of people’s bodies …

I can only hope that such stunning innumeracy is not contagious. Consider how much gas (petrol) you’ve burnt in your life driving around. Consider how much fuel has been burnt to heat your house. Consider how much jet fuel has been burnt to move you around the planet. Consider the fossil fuel energy content of all of the meals you’ve eaten in your life.

Now, add all those up plus more … and then consider how little fuel it will take to cremate your corpus delecti …

This is just virtue signaling on an industrial scale.


PS—When you comment please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS that you are discussing, so we can all understand what you are talking about.


102 thoughts on “No Lye

    • To Tom Halla, don’t laugh too loud Dude, I’ve been hearing the loonies getting up the courage lately to speak their minds re population and have now heard several times spokespeople from the socialists say that old people will have to be gotten rid of because in our enlightened new age of de-industrialization, de-irrigation and urban consolidation we will need to use the increasingly scarce recourses for the benefit of the young who are enthusiastic workers and contribute to the new society. Old people are unsustainable. Not such a big leap from that to Soylent Green is it? Not with the likes of the maniacs running the Greens ideology. “The needs of the individual are secondary to the needs of the many.”
      The radical socialist Pope is no spring chicken, I wonder if he will lead by example? I recon you could get good money for a can of ‘Soylent Pope.’

      • To further this attack on the old, some of extreme eco-left activists will point out, if not already, that it is mainly the older members of our society that seem disagree that the climate change is a crisis, and therefore they stand in the way of saving the earth for the young. What better reason do we need to dispatch with them?

      • To Thin Air – The reason older people disagree that climate change is a disaster is that we’re living in our second global warming crisis separated by a global cooling period.
        “Been there, done that – twice.”

    • They’re not proposing to produce it because someone already is producing it. At least it doesn’t use people, I think. I still have a hard time understanding someone naming a product after the original. You can buy it on Amazon.
      In their “about” page they explain that the product name is taken from the book “Make room, Make room” from which the movie Soylent Green was made.

    • My thought exactly. The Cloralkali process is one of the largest industrial scale basic chemical processes. Electrolysis of saltwater to produce sodium hydroxide and chlorine 24/7. No renewables possible.

      • ristvan,
        Indeed, I did work in a large chlorine/lye/hydrogen plant, 325,000 tons per annum of chlorine, mainly to feed a VCM/PVC factory (500,000 tpa), NaOH as secondary output and hydrogen as byproduct. Nowadays expanded to 500,000 tpa chlorine…
        At my working time, nominal power use was 132 MW, with a minimum throughput of 40 MW to keep the electrolysis alive. The latter was (ab)used for peak shaving of the network, but with big rewards in power price or huge fines if the plant was not down in time…
        That was in pre-windmill times… With intermittent power you can forget to run a factory like that. Good that plant was not in South Australia: 1 second of power failure could cause an emergency shutdown, costing about 100,000 euro’s in production loss for the restart procedures…
        Once there was a huge incident when loading a ship with lye: the connection did burst and the deck sailor did get a lot of (50% solution) lye over his legs and in his boots. Within minutes all skin had loosened and the underlying flesh got atacked. With lots of water the main chemical attack was stopped and the guy was brought to hospital. I don’t know how it ended, I fear that it has costed him both his legs…

  1. I was curious how lye is produced commercially. According to Wikipedia the process is one of ‘high energy consumption.’

  2. In California it’s just a matter of time before they require people to capture their exhaled breath.

  3. Big lye has been trying to get on the gov’t gravy-train for years. They finally figured out how.

  4. As a former California lawmaker (a conservative one), this bill appears to me to be more about regulation than virtue signalling. The supporter of the bill is the Bay Area Funeral Consumers Association, likely folks who want the option in accordance with their environmental beliefs.
    Opposition comes from the California Funeral Directors Association, who likely don’t care to have more regulation foisted upon them.
    The bill outlines concerns for disposal of the waste products and any remaining pathogens.
    I didn’t see the bill as establishing a requirement for this method of bodily disposal.
    That said, with California’s cap-and-trade law newly renewed, one never knows when something voluntary might be turned into something permanent. It is California, after all.

    • Yes, that was my reading. They are saying that if you want to be lyed, these are the requirements (just as with cremation).
      I’m curious about the membership of the Funeral Consumers Association.

    • That is my take as well. I can’t speak to the the motivation of the legislators who sponsored the bill. However I don’t see anything in the text that mentions climate, warming, CO2, etc. Not everything silly is part of a progressive climate conspiracy.
      I also don’t see anything that would prohibit or restrict traditional cremation. The effect of the bill is basically to normalize and regulate the practice of hydrolysis body disposal by applying the same (overly complex and prescriptive but we are talking CA here) rules that apply to cremation to the practice of hydrolysis.
      It makes sense that the primary consumers of this service will likely be ignorant / innumerate environmentalists. I do hope that someone offers and publicizes a comparison of the end-to-end process emissions from hydrolysis and traditional cremation. That, combined with the inherent Ick-factor will likely limit widespread adoption of this practice.
      I also think it would be great if someone could find a way to accommodate the true believers with a more ecologically friendly option – perhaps by piggy-backing on the sewage sludge to energy proposals.

    • Mr DeVore,
      Thank you for your years of service trying to keep California rational. It must have been very frustrating.
      I agree – the bill contains no requirements, so this whole thread is based on an incorrect premise.

  5. Liberals want the darndest things! It takes more energy to make the lye than would be saved…

    • As a “loving” father I would on occasion tell one of my 3 children when they had been very silly that I might go for a “post term abortion” if they didn’t sort out their thinking.
      James Bull
      Reply: I believe the formal term is retroactive abortion~ctm

  6. This method is already being used for dead pets in Washington state, and probably elsewhere.

  7. “For where a grave had opened wide,
    There was no grave at all:
    Only a stretch of mud and sand
    Beside the prison wall,
    And a little heap of burning lime,
    That a man should have his pall.”
    – The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

    • “State of California is looking to fight “climate change” in perhaps the most bizarre way to date:”
      Link does not contain “Climate” whatsoever. Again, link to this information correctly as it is too bazaar. Please prove me wrong, I am happy to here it (me being wrong).

      • Point of order. A ‘bazaar” is a place where one can go to buy merchandise. “Bizarre” is inexplicable behavior.

      • Touché…and here vs. hear. Proof reading is not my strong point, let along writing it. It is the content that matters! (at least I keep telling myself that).

    • Willis, I think Duncan has a point. While the bill was introduced by Todd Gloria,and he is certainly an Alarmist, I could find no public statement by him or anyone else connecting this bill with Climate Change. The Breitbart article of a couple days ago made the connection, but offered no actual quotes or references.

    • “Corpus delecti” means “body of crime”, so it does not seem quite right for law-abiding readers (as we all, surely, are) to consider cremating such a corpse without deference to the lawful authorities. The suggested “corpus dilecti”, which means “body of the esteemed [or beloved]” still has a whiff of the unseemly.
      Perhaps “corpus dilectum” (“esteemed body”) or “corpus delicatum” (“charming body” or even “spoiled body”) would be better.

      • You are quite right. I’ve embarrassed myself by relying on my 7th decade memory, and I should know better. Thank you for the correction.

  8. You don’t get lye for free. It takes energy to produce it. More energy I suspect than you’d save by not cremating.

    • Lye is cheap, and simply a byproduct of the production of chlorine. You’ve already spent the money and energy to produce the valuable Cl2, so the lye is essentially a “freebee” except for the other costs of getting it to its point of end use.

  9. Seems like this law just gives people the option of hydrolysis which I find no problem with. The idea of doing it to save the planet is typical lunacy but, what ever floats your liquified body.
    The amusing part of the law is where they can get permission to dump you down the drain or, which is really green, take you to a biomass plant for the production of energy.
    Comforting to know you can power an episode of Housewives of Beverly Hills.

  10. Not only does dissolving bodies in lye reduce the load on the environment, the fat from the bodies combines with the OH- ions and you get soap as a by-product.

    • That’s basically how early 20th century homesteaders made soap, albeit with pork fat. They got the lye by soaking ash from the smokehouse with rainwater.

  11. Does anyone really believe that the oxidation of human biomass, reputedly less than ants on the planet, and 18% Carbon by dry weight (we have a lot of potassic bone mass, probably because carbonate would dissolve in the lactic acid we produce when we go deficit anaerobic. Plants are about 50% Carbon by dry weight); does anyone really believe dead humans are a significant contribution to the Carbon cycle?
    Goons, we are talking goons here.

  12. Mandatory EPA bureaucrats in the funerals? While mourning passed away family members and friends? No thanks, my beloved will be treated with respect and dignity all the way.

  13. Surely human bodies are a renewable fuel and we should be extracting useful green energy from them (sarc).

  14. “Greenanity” – the Inanity of Greens resulting from their wilful abandonment of commonsense and science in pursuit of their AGW religion.
    I suspect that California leads in the UN’s Global Greenanity league with Southern Australia running a close second.

    • As a further thought I wonder if a creative individual would like to set out a clinical definition of “Greenanity” and send it off to various scientific journals for publication ……..
      Quite a few people come to mind who could swiftly be diagnosed with this mentally crippling disease …. Al Gore being one of the front runners.
      (See ‘Predatory Journals Hit By Star Wars Sting’)

  15. Why not drop the bodies into a plasma gasifier and use the resultant gases to run the system for free?

  16. The olde English death sentence must have been a problem for prisons, they were stuck with the body unless it got a Royal Pardon, “and that you be taken thence to a place of execution and be there hanged by the neck until you be dead; and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall be last confined after your conviction; and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

  17. there was similar-turn you to a few cups of liquid -being promoted by the UK funeral homes about 3? yrs ago
    as an eco solution(literally)
    i gather you could dilute n pour the residue on a tree or somesuch

  18. I’ve had conversations with my lefty friends about urban cemeteries and “all that wasted space”. They are truly devoted to deconstructing the West.

  19. I’ve read stories about criminals disposing of their victims in this manner and a ghoulish thought comes to mind.
    How many human bodies would a given volume of liquid be able to absorb before it becomes unusable for that purpose?

  20. One of our drinking buddies is a retired police officer that spent his years in narcotics and vice. One of the common crime problems is how to get rid of a dead body. Apparently freeing the body combined with a wood chipper is a handy solution. Might work well with all the new composting requirements.

    • Been done; didn’t work. See here for an account. This event was also featured on an episode of Forensic Files, which you can watch on YouTube here. Supposedly this real-life crime inspired the corresponding scene in Fargo.
      Richard Crafts murdered his wife Helle, stuffed her body into a freezer chest, then cut the frozen body into pieces with a chainsaw and fed the pieces into a woodchipper which spewed the chips into the Connecticut River.
      This case generated a whole lot of discussion in Connecticut at the time. I worked in Newtown between 1984 and 1988; the murder occurred in 1986. As I recall the first trial ended in a mistrial and the husband was convicted in the second trial which ended late 1989; sentencing was the following January.

      • Correction: ” … spewed the chips into the Connecticut Housatonic River.”

  21. I’ll comment on the picture, from an episode of Bones that I seem to have missed. If the stuff in that bathtub is strong enough to dissolve flesh, those folks have seriously insufficient personal protective equipment. At a minimum, full-face shields would be required in addition to the goggles.

    • What was the acid used in an early episode of Breaking Bad? It dissolved the bathtub.

  22. I am trying to find a reference to CO2 emissions involving this legislation. Is there such a reference quoting the bill’s authors or its supporters?

  23. I’m not sure how one calculates the stoichiometry of a human body, but a tonne of lye is $450-600 and there is no need for embalming and other sevices, not bad for a funeral, but what do you do with the liquefied ‘hazardous’ remains? I guess neutralized, it could be used as fertilizer – very utilitarian.
    The main unintended consequence would be that funeral directors may not be able to resist a lucrative side industry: getting rid of bodies for people. A ‘missing person’ will take on a more sinister meaning. We’ll need new forensics and the crime scene photographer will be out of a job.
    At this stage, I can see it is past time to intervene on the types that sit thinking up “progressive” thoughts like this. They’ve been left unfettered too long. The stuff can only keep getting worse. Born before WWII, I thought I’d seen and heard everything about the depths to which twisted minds could sink. But I see it is just the beginning. They probably don’t reason the piddlingly amount of CO2 emitted in cremation. They like this stuff.

  24. What is needed is the energy impact of forcing the poor and middle class out of California cities and NY to commute major distances. At this point it should be obvious that they are being forced out by city leaders with each and every dictate.

  25. I think in the case of California it is more appropriate to say they are throwing them under the high speed train. That is the budget item that really drives all the political moves and science policy fraud.

  26. Crazy. What men will do to stop man made climate change. Yet…there is no man made climate change. All my findings show that noted climate change is natural. Ehh…
    I think no man dead or alive can change the weather….

  27. Before worrying about funeral requirements, I worry about these assisted suicide – death with dignity laws. I forsee when they will become mandatory for the old and sick as a way to reduce government provided health care costs.

Comments are closed.