Embalmers Used to Pump Corpses Full of Arsenic. Now It Is Turning Up In Groundwater.
From the time of the Civil War to the first decade of the 20th century, arsenic was the main ingredient of embalming fluids in the United States. Arsenic does not degrade, ever, into harmless by-products, so the burial practices of the end of the 19th century and first years of the 20th have left us with significant environmental hazards.
To be clear, we aren’t talking about minute amounts of arsenic. Embalmers often had their own special fluid blend, but they usually used from as little as four ounces to as much as 12 pounds of arsenic per body.
As caskets downgrade, as they do eventually, the arsenic is picked up by water moving downward and washed into the soil or the groundwater.