Disposal Of Hypodermic Needles Difficult In Falmouth
By: Brent Runyon
Falmouth residents who use injections to manage their health care at home have no environmentally friendly options in town to dispose of needles.
People with diseases like diabetes, hemophilia, Hepatitis C, and rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes treat their diseases with injections at home, but the patients must then dispose of the needles, which can only be used once. To dispose of the needles safely, health officials recommend dropping them in a specially designed sealed plastic container that is then separated from other trash and incinerated as medical waste.
But in Falmouth residents must either put the needles in the trash or must travel to another town to dispose of the hazardous material safely. Falmouth is the only town on Cape Cod that does not offer to assist residents with the safe disposal of needles.
A program offered through Barnstable County would pay for the program and assist the town with the disposal of the medical waste. Barnstable County has offered the sharps removal program at no cost to every Cape Cod town for the past five years, but Falmouth has chosen not to take part. “Falmouth is the only town that does not participate,” said Michael Maguire, who manages the sharps disposal program through the Cape Cod Co-Operative Extension.
The program pays for the sharps disposal containers, as well as for the removal and destruction of the containers. The county also provides training for town employees with how to deal with the filled containers. Falmouth residents may pick up the containers at designated locations in other towns.
A Massachusetts law requiring each town provide a sharps disposal program was passed under Governor W. Mitt Romney’s administration. The law was originally set to go into effect in 2010, but the deadline was pushed back to June 2012.
Last year, Mr. Maguire said the county distributed more than 3,000 containers at 16 sites through the 14 participating towns and picked up 264 loads of hazardous materials containers for safe disposal.
If Falmouth residents put their needles in the trash, the danger is the needles could stick someone disposing of the trash.
“We really want to avoid that,” Mr. Maguire said. “Certain pathogens like Hepatitis C can live outside of the body for three weeks.”
If a worker is stuck with a needle, that person must be treated for all of the diseases to which they could have been exposed. The cost of treating one worker for all the diseases that could be transmitted with one needle stick easily exceeds the entire cost of the program for the entire county for one year, Mr. Maguire said.
The cost of the county program including supplies and disposal of the sharps is $16,000 per year, Mr. Maguire said.
In other towns, the program is handled through the fire department, health department, or department of public works, but in Falmouth none of those departments have chosen to participate.
“We opted not to handle it. We don’t want to deal with it,” said Falmouth Fire Rescue Chief Mark D. Sullivan. The decision not to participate in the program was initially made by retired Chief Paul D. Brodeur, he said.
Chief Sullivan said he has not considered implementing the program since he was officially appointed to the chief position earlier this year. “To be honest, I’m more concerned with buying needles for the ambulances and next year’s budget.” Falmouth Fire Rescue disposes of needles used in ambulances in sealed hazardous materials containers.
Other fire departments in other towns do offer the service, but Chief Sullivan said Falmouth residents should be able to dispose of them at a medical facility. “Why don’t they take them at the hospital? They must handle millions of them.There must be a reason why, but I don’t know what it is.”
Falmouth Hospital spokesman Robin Lord said the hospital cannot take residents’ sharps because of cost and liability issues.
Falmouth Health Department and Falmouth Department of Public Works has also chosen not to participate. Town Manager Julian M. Suso wrote in an e-mail that he is not familiar with the implementation of the program in Falmouth. “I will plan on reviewing this further with the appropriate departments,” he wrote.
At least one Falmouth resident is unhappy that she is left to handle the needles on her own. Faire L. Goldstein of Coonamessett Circle, East Falmouth, said she inquired about how to best dispose of her diabetic needles and was told by a representative of the Falmouth Health Department to call the fire department. A representative of Falmouth Fire Rescue told her to put them in a heavy duty plastic container, like a bleach bottle, and throw it in the trash, she said. Ms. Goldstein said she believes Falmouth should offer the service. Even placing needles in a plastic container is not safe, Mr. Maguire said, because the needles can puncture the container and stick someone.
In Bourne, implementing the program has not been a problem, said Bourne Fire Chief Martin Greene. “It’s easy to deal with, if there’s someone here to deal with it,” he said. The only problem has been on weekends, when people come to the fire station with the filled boxes, and there is no one available to help them get another one.
In Mashpee, the program is handled by the Department of Public Works during normal business hours. Administrative Secretary Mary Keleher said some Falmouth residents do take advantage of the program in Mashpee Town Hall. The program is easy to deal with on a daily basis. “It’s pretty basic,” she said.
Mashpee Department of Public Works at 350 Meetinghouse Road, the Bourne Fire Department at 130 Main Street, Buzzards Bay, and Sandwich Fire Department at 115 Route 6A, are the closest sharps disposal locations for Falmouth residents.