Is It Illegal to Die in Longyearbyen, Norway?

iStock/sbossert
iStock/sbossert

Located on the archipelago of Svalbard just 800 miles from the North Pole, the Norwegian village of Longyearbyen is reputed to be the world’s most northerly town. Deep within the Arctic Circle, the old coal-mining hub doesn’t see sunlight for about four months out of the year and is riddled with polar bears—and yet it’s home to approximately 2000 residents and sees upwards of 65,000 visitors each year.

According to the BBC, The Guardian, WIRED, Bustle, Men’s Health, The Sun, New York Post, IFL Science, Stuff, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and a handful of other publications, a quirky law in Longyearbyen makes it illegal for any of those people to die. This colorful factoid is apparently even parroted by tour guides who live in the region.

But it’s not true.

There is no law in Longyearbyen making it illegal to die. “It is not forbidden to die in Longyearbyen,” Jovna Z. Dunfjell of the Svalbard Church tells Mental Floss in an email. “If that had been the case, how would you punish the act?”

The myth of a “forbidden to die” law appears to have emerged from the town’s unusual geography. Since Longyearbyen is so far off the beaten path, there are no elder care homes. The town has a small local hospital, but it’s not equipped to handle most serious medical cases.

“It is not forbidden to die in Longyearbyen ...” Svalbard’s Information Adviser Liv Asta Ødegaard wrote in an email to the editors of Wikipedia (yep, even Wikipedia was skeptical of this story). “All inhabitants in Longyearbyen have to keep an address on the main land, and when they get old and need help and nursing from the society, they have to move back to the main land.”

In other words, dying isn’t banned—it’s just uncommon. If you’re in danger of dying, the local hospital will send you to a southern hospital. (Though it’s obviously not something people can always prepare for: In 2015, an avalanche there killed two people.)

However, for Longyearbyen's unlucky dead, it is forbidden to be buried in a coffin. It’s so chilly in Longyearbyen that bodies barely decompose. (Urns are allowed, however.)

In fact, some century-old bodies in the local cemetery still contain rare remnants of the 1918 influenza virus that killed around 40 million people. In 1998, researchers visited the graveyard to gather samples of the virus’s genetic material. The findings were extremely valuable and have helped scientists better understand how to combat similar cases in the future. The research could save millions of lives.

(And if you're planning a trip, don't believe the rumors that this virus could spread to visitors. In an email, Svalbard’s Communication Adviser Terje Carlsen writes: “This is not an active virus and is not considered a threat.” Watch out for those polar bears, though!)

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

No, Your Coronavirus Face Mask Does Not Limit Your Oxygen Intake

Face masks are not hazardous to your health.
Face masks are not hazardous to your health.
popartinc/iStock via Getty Images

Unlike countries such as Japan and China that have long since normalized wearing face masks, Americans have had to adjust to a new normal—one in which cloth face coverings are recommended to limit the spread of coronavirus. Having your mouth and nose obstructed, even by a breathable fabric like cotton, has led some to speculate that face masks might impede your oxygen intake or make you breathe in exhaled air—or even lead to carbon dioxide (CO2) poisoning.

Neither is likely to occur. Here’s why.

Both loose-fitting surgical masks and cloth masks are porous. Air can move through the material, but it’s more difficult for a respiratory droplet to pass through, making masks an effective obstacle for infectious germs that would otherwise be released into the air. Wearing a mask might feel like your airflow is reduced, and reduced airflow can lead to hypoxemia (low arterial oxygen supply) or hypoxia (a lack of sufficient oxygen in tissue).

But masks can’t affect that intake level. Instead, they cause a mechanical obstruction that may give the wearer the sensation of having to breathe harder or that less air is being inhaled. The oxygen level is not affected.

The other concern relates to hypercapnia, or too much carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. The condition can cause drowsiness, headache, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness. The thinking here is that a mask can prevent exhaled air from dissipating, leading the wearer to rebreathe it. But there’s no evidence that could ever occur. While some CO2 can be inhaled, it’s not in quantities that could pose a threat to healthy mask users. The amount is easily eliminated by a person’s respiratory and metabolic systems. If a mask is worn for a prolonged period, it might be possible to develop a headache, but nothing more.

“There is no risk of hypercapnia in healthy adults who use face coverings, including medical and cloth face masks, as well as N95s,” Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “Carbon dioxide molecules freely diffuse through the masks, allowing normal gas exchange while breathing.”

There are exceptions. If a person has lung issues owing to disease or other breathing problems, they should consult with their physician before using a face covering. Masks are also not recommended for anyone under the age of 2.

Additionally, extended wear of N95 masks in a health care setting has been associated with hypoventilation, or a reduction in the frequency and depth of breathing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these masks, which are intended to filter out 95 percent of particles, present more breathing resistance. The CDC advises those in the medical field to take breaks from wearing these masks.

But in healthy adults who wear cloth or surgical masks for limited periods of time, hypoxemia, hypoxia, or hypercapnia is highly unlikely to occur.

[h/t USA Today]