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Flotsam Vials Are Analyzed

May 01, 1990

About 70 medical vials that have washed ashore on San Diego County beaches in the past two days may contain penicillin, health officials said Monday.

"The white or yellowish-white powder looked outdated," said Gary Stephany, environmental health director for the county Department of Health Services. "It looked like the type of medicine someone just tossed in the ocean, although I hope no one tossed it there. It appears to be the same substance that washed up on beaches two years ago. Some (of those) had a military mark, and the Navy admitted that some of it was theirs."

On Monday, the Navy offered its assistance in analyzing the substance, and preliminary tests revealed that it may be penicillin, Stephany said.

Two years ago, several items out of a slew of medically related waste that washed up along county beaches were traced to Navy ships and a military supply depot in Northern California. However, federal prosecutors concluded that there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges, and investigators were unable to trace the origin of most of the waste.

Last year, the County Board of Supervisors approved tougher rules for the disposal of potentially hazardous medical refuse.

"This is the first major incident since the county passed the ordinance," Stephany said.

Between 20 and 30 of the vials were turned over to the health department Monday morning, and another 40 were found on Silver Strand Beach later in the day. Three more were found in Imperial Beach.

"We don't know where they came from; there were no labels to identify them," Stephany said. "They looked pretty old. As long as they stay in the bottles, it is no problem, but there could be if kids open them. Some people are allergic to penicillin."

In another incident, six vials containing a white, powdery substance were found washed ashore Sunday in Ocean Beach at the foot of Ladera Street, according to San Diego police.

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