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Needle Collection Program Launched

September 19, 1998|JENNIFER KNIGHT

Ventura County officials on Friday launched a needle collection program to prevent syringes tainted with HIV, hepatitis and other communicable infections from reaching garbage cans and landfills.

Officials from the county's Solid Waste Management Department are joining city counterparts across the county to offer free disposal containers for used syringes and needles.

The Sharps Collection Program is part of National Pollution Prevention Week, Monday to Sept. 27. The event also targets everyday needle users, such as diabetics, cancer patients, and allergy sufferers, said Terri Thomas, waste management analyst for the county.

The county would eventually like to make it illegal for residents to dispose of such biohazardous materials in the trash. The Environmental Health Department estimates that each year diabetics dispose of 1.5 million needles, which end up in California landfills, said Hazel McCord, a medical waste specialist.

County health officials contend needle waste poses a risk to sanitation workers, waste sorters and recyclers.

"Basically you look at them from their point of view, if you've been stuck with a needle, you basically go in and you wait and wait and wait," Thomas said. "You sit around wondering if the needle you were stuck with is infected with HIV or is just a diabetic needle."

During the last two years two county sanitation workers have been stuck by needles, Thomas said.

Although program officials are not targeting intravenous drug users, they are not discouraging them from participating. Likewise, health officials are encouraging people who use syringes to inject their pets with medicine to take part in the program.

All materials collected in the containers will be taken to a facility specially equipped to handle biohazardous materials. Anyone with needles, syringes or lancets is encouraged to contact public health officials at (805) 648-9211 to get free biohazard containers.

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