FACT CHECK: Is A Colorado Funeral Home That Offers ‘Green’ Burials Being Investigated?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on X, formerly Twitter, claims a Colorado funeral home that offers “green” burial services is purportedly being investigated.

Verdict: True

Both a press release from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and media reports indicate the Return to Nature Funeral Home is under investigation for allegedly improperly storing human remains.

Fact Check:

Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said it may take months to identify the over 100 sets of human remains improperly stored by the Return to Nature Funeral Home, according to CBS News. Keller has declared a local disaster emergency as a result of the incident, the outlet reported.

“The funeral home in Colorado where the Feds are, is one of the few that offers ‘green’ funeral services after state laws passed, similar to WA. This could be corpses just piling up and mishandling of corpses, or something else. Idk,” the X post purports.

The post also includes a screenshot detailing “green” burial, which does not involve “harsh embalming chemicals, metallic, plastic or unnatural items.”

The claim is correct. An Oct. 5 press release from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office indicates the Return to Nature Funeral Home is being investigated for allegedly improperly storing human remains. The sheriff’s office was dispatched to a building owned by the funeral home, where they executed a search warrant and discovered the remains. Other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are working alongside the sheriff’s office.

Multiple outlets, including CNN, NBC News, and The Associated Press, also covered the investigation. NBC News reported that while “green” burial is legal under Colorado law, “human remains that are not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.” (RELATED: Have 36 Foot Human Skeletons Been Discovered?)

In addition, The Associated Press reported that police discovered 115 bodies after neighbors said there was a “putrid” smell in the area.

Check Your Fact reviewed the Return to Nature Funeral Home’s website, which confirms it offers “green” burial services. The website’s “Burial” page outlining “green” practices appears in the screenshot included in the X post.

Dr. Tanya Marsh, a funeral and cemetery law expert from Wake Forest University, told Check Your Fact human remains must be preserved prior to final disposition such as cremation or burial in many states.

“In many states, it is a legal requirement that human remains must be preserved prior to final disposition [such as] cremation [or] burial.  That preservation requirement can typically be satisfied through embalming or refrigeration,” Marsh said.
“I think the important thing to clarify with respect to the story of this funeral home is that the problem is not that they were offering green burial or funeral services to clients. The problem is that this funeral home made promises to consumers that it did not keep, and their failure to adhere to basic requirements likely also violated the law,” she added.

“Green” burial is not to be confused with human composting, which is currently allowed in six states, including Colorado and Washington State, according to NBC News.

In May 2021, Colorado State Bill 21-006, which allows human remains to be converted to soil via the process of natural reduction, was signed into law. Natural reduction involves using a container that speeds up the process of biological decomposition, according to the bill. Furthermore, the bill amends the definitions of cremation and mortuary science practitioner so that natural reduction is not regulated as either.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Colorado State Sen. Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez reiterated that “green” burial differs from human composting in an email to Check Your Fact.

“Natural Organic Reduction (human composting) is separate and apart from green burial and it does not appear that the funeral home in question offered that service,” Rodriguez said.

“Regardless of method of disposition, I was happy to support bills that allowed [the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA] to fully investigate these complaints and to root out any bad actors. Families deserve to know that their loved ones are being treated with the utmost care and the vast majority of funeral homes I know, be it natural reduction or traditional burial and cremation, go above and beyond in terms of care, quality, fidelity and diligence,” he added.

Check Your Fact has also contacted the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and the Return to Nature Funeral Home for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter