Town Officials Avoid Handling Sharps Disposal
By: Brent Runyon
Falmouth is the only town on Cape Cod that does not offer residents a safe system to dispose of medical sharps, but the town could have been providing the service to residents for the past four years, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
In 2008, the state gave the Falmouth health department a specially designed sharps disposal kiosk that could have been made available to residents, said Department of Public Health director of environmental health Suzanne K. Condon. Last week, Ms. Condon said she was surprised that Falmouth did not have the sharps disposal kiosk in a public place.
“If it isn’t being used for sharps collection, then we need to find out what is going on,” said Ms. Condon.
Since 2008, the kiosk has been in a storage area in town hall covered in shrink wrap, said Falmouth Health Agent David W. Carignan. “We’ve had it for several years. It’s here in storage,” said Mr. Carignan. “It’s not in use at the moment.”
The kiosk, which is about the size of a postal letter box, is not in use because there has not been a decision about the best place to put it, he said. “A location has not been arrived at as of the moment,” Mr. Carignan said. “That location has been discussed and it is probably going to be deployed and made available to the public in the very near future.”
But Ms. Condon said the town should have returned it to the department of public health if it was not being used. “If someone took one of these kiosks, then they committed to having it available to the public,” she said.
The Kiosk Nobody Wants
Falmouth Fire Rescue Chief Mark Sullivan said he does not want to take the sharps disposal kiosk at headquarters.
Falmouth Hospital spokesman Robin Lord said the hospital could not accept medical waste from outside the hospital because of liability issues.
Falmouth Police Chief Anthony Riello said his department will not be accepting sharps.
Mr. Carignan applied to receive the kiosk in April of 2008, according to a document supplied by Ms. Condon. In that application, he explained why the town needed the kiosk. “The demographics of Falmouth indicate a significant elderly population and a resulting increased incidence of diabetes,” he wrote. As a result of the application, the kiosk was provided at no charge to the town, Ms. Condon said.
There is some urgency to implement the sharps disposal system in Falmouth. If the system is not offered by July 1 of this year, the town would be in violation of a state law requiring that sharps be removed from the general waste stream, Ms. Condon said.
Town officials have yet to announce when they will implement a sharps disposal program in Falmouth. “We’re working on that behind the scenes and we don’t have anything to announce at the moment,” said Town Manager Julian M. Suso. He said he was not unduly concerned about meeting the July 1 deadline.
Earlier this year, the Falmouth Board of Health said that the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department headquarters on Main Street would be the best location for a needle disposal kiosk.
But Falmouth Fire Rescue Chief Mark D. Sullivan said yesterday that he does not want to take the sharps disposal kiosk at headquarters. “It should be at the waste management facility where all the other waste and debris is, not at the fire station headquarters where it could be in the middle of an emergency,” he said.
Still, Chief Sullivan said he has been pressured to accept the sharps disposal kiosk, and he will likely make an announcement later this week. “I’m against it, but I’m doing what I’ve been told,” Chief Sullivan said. His primary concerns are the fire department budget and keeping the ambulances filled with supplies and medicine, he said.
Since the Enterprise first published a story about residents having limited options for the safe disposal of sharps last November, town officials have explored at least four sites to place the kiosk.
At the time, Chief Sullivan said Falmouth Hospital should accept the sharps. But Falmouth Hospital spokesman Robin Lord said the hospital could not accept medical waste from outside the hospital because of liability issues.
Earlier this year, the board of health announced that the sharps disposal program would likely go to the Waste Management Facility on Thomas B. Landers Road. Department of Public Works Director Raymond A. Jack said last week that he had not heard any updates about the sharps disposal program in months.
Earlier this month, Daniel H. Shearer, a member of the Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said he heard that the Falmouth police would take the sharps at the Main Street station. But Falmouth Police Chief Anthony J. Riello said his department will not be accepting sharps. Falmouth police will accept prescription medication for disposal as part of a joint program with the Falmouth Prevention Partnership.
Falmouth Human Services director Karen M. Cardeira investigated the disposal kiosk at a private business in Falmouth, but that site was deemed unfeasible.
Disposing of Sharps: The Whole Story
Disposal of Hypodermic Needles Difficult in Falmouth (November 2011)
Governor W. Mitt Romney signed the law in 2006 to eliminate sharps from the waste stream and to provide intravenous drug users a way to obtain and dispose of needles to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, Ms. Condon said. Since that time some people have been resistant to accepting the needles, because of a stigma about intravenous drug use, she said.
But she pointed out that intravenous drug users are not the only people who use needles. “One of the things that people fail to keep in perspective is that the biggest generators of spent sharps are the diabetic community,” Ms. Condon said. People with rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and hepatitis C can also treat their diseases with injections at home.
The law was originally meant to go into effect in 2010, but the deadline was postponed for two years to allow towns more time to put the system in place because of the poor economy at the time, Ms. Condon said.
About 70 percent of the cities and towns in Massachusetts have a plan for sharps disposal on file with the department of public health, she said.
Every other town on Cape Cod has a needle disposal service in place paid for by the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. The cooperative extension pays for the training of employees, and the pickup and disposal of needles. The same program is also available to Falmouth.
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