Blunting the danger of “sharps”

CATEGORY: WAS Waste/Landfills


Blunting the danger of “sharps”

Waste officials advise special care in disposing needles used in the home.

By Jane Hill

Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – As public awareness of what constitutes household hazardous waste increases, attention is focusing on the danger posed to sanitation workers by home health-care equipment – particularly hypodermic needles.

“Sharps,” as they are known in the health-care and sanitation industry, can create health risks for sanitation and landfill workers who come into contact with needles that have been disposed of in regular household garbage.

Dan Reese, a waste collections expert for Three Rivers Regional Solid Waste Management Authority, said several sanitation workers have been pricked by waste needles in recent months and have had to go through a series of vaccinations and inoculations to protect themselves from possible infection.

“Obviously, there is a concern about liability for us here, but this is something that could hurt others as well. If a member of the public, a child, is digging through the trash and gets stuck by a needle it could be very serious,” Reese said.

A Household Hazardous Waste Pick Up Day is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Lee County Agri-Center on state Highway 145 South in Verona. Sponsors of the pickup day are authorized by the state to collect medical waste like needles from local residents. But increased caution is requested in the handling of home medical waste on a regular basis.

Mark Williams, a environmental administrator in the Special Waste Division of the state Department of Environmental Quality, advises diabetics and others who must give themselves regular injections at home to do one of two things.

“If you are associated with a home health agency, let the health-care professionals handle the waste,” Williams said. “If you are not associated with a home health agency, contain your sharps in a puncture-resistant container, and thoroughly disinfect the sharps by soaking them in a bleach product, like Clorox.”

The procedure could be consolidated by putting used needles in a Clorox bottle with some bleach still in it, he said.

Julie McCord, a registered nurse in charge of infectious surveillance control at North Mississippi Medical Center’s Home Health Agency, said a protocol is given to patients who use needles in the home – mostly diabetes patients.

The procedure includes placing needles and syringes in hard plastic or metal containers with a lid that fastens securely. The container should not be made of glass or clear plastic, McCord said.

Other medical wastes – such as bandages with blood or other body fluids – also should be placed in securely fastened plastic bags before disposal to reduce the possibility of infection.

Reese said the only problem with the home containerized program is that plastic bottles can be broken open by compactors in garbage trucks, still exposing sanitation workers to loose needles.

Reese said he is hopeful a needle exchange program can be implemented at local health departments or drug stores where patients get medical supplies.

Currently, there are no needle exchange programs in place at the Lee County Health Department or the Mississippi Board of Health District office for Region II located in Tupelo.

Click video to hear audio