You are here:

Funerals/Human Decomposition


I have read where people buried in sealed caskets turn into "toxic stew" after a period. That tidbit came from some type of official study done which I read about on:
If a sealed casket turns a corpse into "toxic stew" after a period, then why have people like Abraham Lincoln and others been exhumed after many years and appear almost in perfect shape. Either the study in the link above was flawed or there exists some other factor involved other than a sealed casket that would turn a cadaver into "toxic stew."
If a sealed casket does result in a corpse turning into toxic stew, then should we all be buying cheaper, unsealed caskets...and should vaults be left unsealed or vented in some fashion also? Something about that study doesn't seem to make sense, at least in all cases.
I just wanted to see what your opinion might be.

Thank you.

Mike E.


The truth of the matter is that neither a sealed casket or a sealed vault can prevent decomposition from occurring. Most remains buried in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum crypt will decompose whether they are embalmed, placed in a sealed metal casket, placed in a sealed burial vault. The moisture and gases given off simply accumulate until a seal might be broken. "Toxic Stew" ?  There could an accumulation of fluid in a casket, but usually it wouldn't amount to a great deal. In the case of ground burial the only thing i tell families is that if protecting the remains from water in the grave a sealed vault is a good purchase, but it is not going to keep the body looking perfect forever. The bodies that are on display have been very well embalmed to the point of being leather-like and what you are seeing is a masterful job of creating a mask at the time of death and the upkeep of the wax mask that was created.

I hope this helps,

Erin Phelps

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you greatly Erin, for your prompt and helpfull reply. One other  question:
I have heard that a copper vault will outlast a stainless steel vault, and that a bronze vault will outlast copper or stainless steel, although bronze seems a bit pricey for me. Have priced a copper lined vault at two different funeral homes. One was $2700.00; the other was $3300.00. Then I've heard of vaults made from thicker or solid copper running as high as $6000.00. Would there be any significant differences in longevity as far as protecting a casket from air and water between the cheaper copper lined vaults in the $2700.00 to $3500.00 range compared to the vaults like the $5000.00 Copper Triune Burial vault or a solid 12 gauge copper vault that runs $10,000? I'm just wondering if copper that is too thick above the thickness of a copper lining might be overkill.

Thank you again.

Mike E.


Sorry for the delay in answering, I haven't check my email since 7/3.

As far as protection from air & water, a concrete vault with or without the metal lining should be guaranteed to resist the entrance of water and air. I am not so sure that a metal lining adds anything to the sealing ability, an all metal vault may be somewhat stronger than a concrete or concrete/metal vault, but I truthfully can't tell you that they seal any better.

I hope this helps,

Erin Phelps  


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Erin Phelps


I can answer any questions about funerals,embalming, cremation, green burial, home funerals, burial on your own land, scattering of cremated remains and any other death related questions you may have.


I have worked in the death care industry since 1977, owning my own funeral home since 1990. I worked as an EMT at a funeral home based ambulance service for 6 years gain much experience there. When I opened my funeral home, my goal was to provide honest, straightforward, significant and affordable services to the families who called upon me for my services. Since Sept. 2008, I have served as a member of the Oregon State Mortuary & Cemetery Board, which regulates the operation of mortuarys and cemeteries in Oregon. I have been a regular attendee and speaker at various funeral related seminars over the years and am a frequent contributor to "Mortuary Management" magazine. I was one of the first funeral directors in Oregon to offer "Green" or "Natural" burial services and to offer assistance to families who wish to take care of their own family members at home. I also have vast experience in the repatriation of a deceased to their country of origin.

Oregon Funeral Directors Association, International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association, Cremation Association of America, Funeral Ethics Association Natural End Funeral Services - Charter Member.

Mortuary Management Funeral Monitor Funeral Service Insider

Attended the University of Oregon Associates of Science Degree - Mt. Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon

Awards and Honors
Top 10 Eye Enucleators in Oregon. Nationally Board Certified Funeral Director/Embalmer Honored in "Funeral Monitor", Aug. 2007 for my business practices.

Past/Present Clients
Since 1990, I have served over 10,000 families, requesting the gamute of services ranging from the simplest to the most elaborate. Servicing christian, jewish, muslim, buddhist, hindu and humanists, along with families from every continent in the world.

©2016 All rights reserved.