MEXICO CITY (AP) — Officials said Wednesday they found a clandestine, unregistered embalming center operating out of a house on the outskirts of Mexico City with two corpses — one apparently a COVID-19 victim — laid out on stretchers.

Mariela Gutierrez, the mayor of the township of Tecámac, just north of Mexico City, said authorities were investigating how long the illegal embalming had gone on, and where the culprits had been disposing of the bodily fluids extracted from the cadavers, which were apparently held in plastic containers.

Gutierrez called it “an extremely serious risk of contagion, and a terrible disregard for sanitary norms.”

Gutierrez said one of two men detained at the house said the clandestine center had been used because funeral parlors in the area were overflowing with bodies due to the pandemic. One of two bodies found in the house was a municipal employee who had been granted sick leave because she had apparently been infected with the coronavirus.

Coffins used to transport the remains of deceased persons sit empty outside the crematorium at the San Nicolas Tolentino Pantheon, in the Iztapalapa area of Mexico City, early Friday, May 22, 2020. Funeral parlors and crematoriums in Iztapalapa, a borough of 2 million people, say they have seen their work multiplied with the surging number of dead of COVID-19 in the capital’s hardest-hit corner by the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

“They didn’t have the slightest hygienic measures, or permits,” Gutierrez said of the suspects, who apparently worked for a funeral home located a few blocks away. “The investigation is now centered on seeing what they did with the liquids, and where they disposed of them.”

Gutierrez said the two suspects had offered police bribes after the embalming center was detected late Tuesday. Tecámac, a largely impoverished municipality of about 600,000 inhabitants, has seen about 500 coronavirus cases and 45 deaths so far. But because Mexico City has had so many more cases, city residents have begun going to the suburbs to look for funeral services.

Improper disposal of medical waste has become an increasing problem in Mexico amid the pandemic. And, according to a study by the Senate, 60% of funeral agencies in Mexico are either unregistered or not fully registered.

In May, authorities found 3.5 tons of hospital waste dumped in the woods on the outskirts of Mexico City, and 6,000 cubic yards (meters) of medical waste piled ceiling-high at a clandestine warehouse in Puebla state, leaking out of over-crammed trailers and buildings. Teetering piles of coffins, meanwhile, are piling up outside Mexico City’s overworked crematoriums.

Empty and charred coffins lay outside the crematorium in the San Nicolás Tolentino Pantheon cemetery in the Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. In the first days of the pandemic in March, they cremated 15 bodies per day. By May, that number had risen to between 30 and 35 per day. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

And in the town of Nicolás Romero, in a wooded area on the outskirts of Mexico City, someone had been dumping tons of medical waste on a hillside starting sometime around mid-April. By the time inspectors came to clean up the area between May 4 and 11, they found 3.5 tons of the stuff, including tissue and partly-incinerated human tissue scattered around the area.

Specialized waste incinerators are already over-taxed by the flood of disposed protective equipment and infectious tissue being generated amid the pandemic.

And outside even registered crematoriums, discarded coffins continue to pile up, literally, despite a 2019 law that regulates the re-use of disinfected coffins. According to the Mexican Senate, before the pandemic around 100,000 coffins per year were reused.

But while coronavirus guidelines require that the bodies of COVID-19 victims be placed in body bags after death, they still must be transported in containers — usually wooden or metal coffins — to crematoriums. Since there is no guarantee that bodily fluids haven’t leaked out of the bags, people are loath to reuse them for fear of contagion. They are discarded and have simply piled up.