NEWBERG, Ore. -- What happens to the dental gold and other metals in your body when you are cremated? The KATU Problem Solvers found out that Oregon laws do not stop funeral services and crematories from recycling the metal and making a profit off of it.
Beverly Horttor's husband, David, died last March in Newberg. Horttor said he wanted his family to receive the metal from his 15 gold teeth and other dental work.
Horttor said the funeral home representative from Attrell's in Newberg told her that it was too expensive to have a dentist remove the teeth before cremation. And after cremation?
"It would go through the cremation process and it would dissipate, so you wouldn't see it," Horttor said the representative explained to her.
But months later, Horttor began to doubt what the Attrell's representative said and contacted the KATU Problem Solvers.
The Problem Solvers called one of the Attrell's funeral services as a customer. A representative told them by phone that the gold "vaporizes" during cremation.
The Problem Solvers found out that is not true.
Erin Phelps runs a different funeral service called Omega Funeral and Cremation Service in Southeast Portland. He said the temperature in a cremation chamber can reach 2,000 degrees. The Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board says on its website that "the temperature is not sufficient to consume" dental gold and silver.
Phelps said he finds dental metals in the remains after cremation, along with joint replacements and casket hinges.
"No, it's not like the metal goes away," Phelps said. "The metal remains."
He said dental gold and silver may be melted, may not look like its original state, and may not be worth a lot of money, but it does not disappear. Phelps said he has to remove dental metals and other metal parts from the remains before the next step, pulverization, or it will damage the equipment.
The Problem Solvers called Attrell's to find out why their representatives are saying the gold vaporizes or disappears, especially in the case of Horttor's husband, who had more than a dozen teeth with gold. The Attrell's representative told them, "No comment," and hung up.
Horttor believes Attrell's lied to her and said her husband would not approve of Attrell's actions.
"He'd probably be very angry, would be my guess, he'd probably be very angry," she said.
Where did the metals go? News reports have shown stories of funeral home workers prying out gold teeth and selling them at pawn shops. There is no evidence of that in this case.
Phelps said standard practice for crematories is to remove the metals and set them aside for waste management companies to pick up for recycling. He said the recycling earns money for crematories, but he believes they should not make a profit off the metals.
"That's like stealing from the dead," said Phelps.
He said his crematory donates its part of the recycling money to charity, and he hopes all other crematories do as well.
“An ethical crematorium will not receive any type of monetary reimbursement for recycling these metals,” said Phelps.
However, the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board said there is no state law that prevents crematories from pocketing the money from metals after cremation. After Horttor and KATU contacted the board, the board decided to review Oregon's laws to see if they need to change.
Horttor believes other families should get the full story so they can best fulfill the dying wishes of someone they love.
"If you're grieving, if you've chosen someone that you feel is reputable, that you can trust, then you trust them," said Horttor. "They tell you something and you trust them."