West Australians are dying so fat that their bodies can no longer fit into regular cremators, leaving taxpayers with a multi-million dollar bill to install extra-large incinerators at Perth's cemeteries.
In macabre evidence of WA's obesity epidemic, the authority which operates metropolitan cemeteries has asked the State Government for more than $11 million to buy new cremators to handle enormous cadavers.
Oversized bodies are causing further financial headaches for the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board because of the big amount of gas required to completely burn a 200kg-plus person at the required 1000C.
News of the need for the cemetery upgrades emerged when board chief executive Peter Deague outlined the problem to State Parliament at a recent hearing into the 2013-14 State Budget, which included provisions for $5.6 million over the next five years.
Up until recently, the families of the morbidly obese deceased were told cremation was not an option because cremators could not cope with weights of more than 350kg. With standard coffins weighing about 80kg, bodies over 250kg were pushing the limits of existing furnaces.
An extra-large cremator was installed last year at Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park but more were needed to keep up with demand, Mr Deake told the The Weekend West yesterday.
"What that relates to principally is we are having to purchase cremators that can take larger bodies," he said. "You need a cremator that is large enough to take the dimensions of a large coffin.
"You need the entrance to be a metre wide.
"We have an automatic trolley that mechanically pushes the coffin into the cremator. It has to be designed to accommodate 350kg . . . and the floor of the cremator needs to take that impact.
"Then there is cremation time. Fat causes problems because it generates a quick increase in temperature and we have to manage that by the air flow and fuel to keep it to within a safe cremating temperature.
"Over the five or six years cremation times have averaged about 90 minutes.
"Now the cremation times are around 120 minutes or more.
"If there is a combined weight (of coffin and body) of 350kg then cremation times can be 2 1/2 or three hours.
"Increased energy cost is one thing but also the fact that our through-put isn't as high."