CENTRAL VALLEY: Trashing Dirty Needles Threatens Public Safety
Central Valley residents who use injectable medications at home often trash their used needles with the rest of their household garbage due to the low number of drop-off sites for medical waste. Although it is not illegal, county and state officials call it an "unnecessary environmental blight" that puts refuse workers at risk of contracting AIDS, hepatitis C or other diseases. Despite a 1996 change to the 1990 California Medical Waste Management Act that allows medical institutions, such as pharmacies, hospitals and clinics, to dispose of the public's medical waste, few of them have begun offering the service, citing liability and cost concerns. Kaweah Delta Hospital is the only facility in Central Valley to take advantage of the law's amendment, and they receive $500 in public funds monthly to offset the costs. Kaweah Vice President Ed Sullivan said, "It's been easy for us to do, and it's been a community service." And many residents want to dispose of their needles properly. One Fresno university professor, suffering from diabetes, said, "I'll drive anywhere [to safely dispose dirty needles], just tell me where to go." Jack McGurk, chief of the environmental management branch of the state's Department of Health Services medical waste program, said the problem is growing as hospitals send patients home to continue IV treatments and more people manage their chronic illnesses through daily self-injections. McGurk said that following EPA suggestions to put needles inside closed containers "reduces the risk or hazard somewhat, but it doesn't eliminate it." Because many health officials might be unaware of the 1996 legal change, he added, "We try to get the word out, but maybe we need to do a better job." Lew Nelson, a public works manager, concluded, "It just seems prudent to participate in any program that attempts to get these needles properly disposed" (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 1/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.