Did you know that, according to Polish law, graves can be reused after 20 years, provided nobody objects and the burial fee has not been paid? After reading this scientific paper on soil contaminants around cemeteries, you will.
You may also have more of an appreciation for the fact that cemeteries have their own ecological make-up. The human body, from birth, slowly accumulates an ecosystem, and after death some of that ecosystem goes back into the wild.
This is both slightly poetic and worrying. The World Health Organisation has expressed concern about contamination of the soil and water around cemeteries, and a recent paper by Polish scientists entitled Microbiological Analysis of Necrosols Collected from Urban Cemeteries in Poland takes a closer look at what’s swimming around the soil.
Enterococcus faecalis can harmlessly inhabit the digestive system of human beings, but it can also cause dangerous infections, particularly if it’s a strain that has been picked up in a hospital — where bacteria are much more likely to be resistant to antibiotics. Some results are more encouraging: the harmless skin bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis is in cemetery soil, and so is some Penicillium.
The conclusion of the paper talks about the results of other studies. We may be sharing our cemeteries with Clostridium perfringens, which causes food poisoning, and with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which often causes rashes. So this is a great paper for if we want to reflect on what effect a body has on the world, and what kind of life we give to a cemetery.