Sharps banned from household trash as of July 1

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June 20, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — Individuals who use syringes, lancets, pen needles and other medical "sharps" to treat illnesses at home will soon need to find a new way to dispose of these items.

As of July 1, a four-year old Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) regarding medical waste disposal will go into effect, making it illegal for residents put such medical sharps in household trash collections, regardless of how carefully they are packaged, sealed up or labeled.

"This has been a regulation that has been stalled for a couple of years," Mary Allen, public health nurse administrator for the Town of West Springfield, said. "[Cities and towns] didn't have a way in place to have people get rid of their [medical] sharps safely."

The ruling, 105CMR 480, was passed by the Legislature in 2008 with the intent of better controlling the disposal of various types of medical waste, as well as to protect individuals who handle trash disposal from inadvertent exposure to hazardous chemicals, pathogens and blood-borne illnesses. The residential portion of enforcement was delayed until July 2012 to give cities and towns time to develop methods to assist residents with sharps disposal.

It is, Allen acknowledged, a growing problem for residents and for communities who need to help them dispose of this medical waste properly.

The number of individuals this new restriction effects goes beyond diabetics — acknowledged to be the largest users of such items — to people who treat arthritis, psoriasis and other types of conditions with injectable medications and/or blood testing at home. The growing use of injectable medications to treat pets' illnesses compounds the problem.

Allen said she began looking into safe sharps disposal for residents when she learned about the change in disposal regulations, and was able to apply for a grant to get a disposal kiosk for the town's Municipal Building. That disposal unit is located on the first floor adjacent to the staircase.

"Because we didn't have any [facility] we could partner with [for disposal], I thought the kiosk would be of benefit to the community," she said.

She said the town pays to have the medical waste in the kiosk disposed of properly. There is no charge for residents to use the kiosk.

Sherry Petrucci, public health nurse for the town of Agawam said individuals can continue to put their sharps in a sturdy container — such as a heavy-duty plastic laundry bottle and cap them up, but they will have to bring them to the town Health Department instead of putting the container in their weekly trash.

"We will accept them, but we will have to charge a disposal fee," Petrucci said. She estimated it would cost a resident about $15 for disposal of a 100-ounce size Tide bottle.

The Health Department will also be selling 2-quart medical sharps containers for $8, which includes the cost of disposal. Those containers can be purchased at the Health Department, which is located at 36 Main St. in the town hall. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Michael Suckau, director of public health for the city of Westfield, said his department is researching ways to create cost-free sharps disposal for city residents.

"Right now we're putting together a program where residents can drop of containers with household sharps at a central location in the city," Suckau said. "That container would be emptied by a licensed [medical waste] contractor

He said there would not be a charge for residents to drop off home sharps "at this time," and added the Westfield is also planning to offer sharps containers for sale through the Health Department in the future, hoping to maintain a uniform size for the items placed in the kiosk.

He said pharmacies already stock sharps containers that include a mail-back feature. Those units retail "anywhere from $20 to $40" he said.

"A lot of folks probably can't pay or don't want to pay that expense," Suckau said. "For the benefit of everyone we're attempting to offer the kiosk service."

He said the kiosk would not be in place by July 1, but he expected the service to be available close to that date. Residents are advised to look for advertisements indicating the service is available and where it will be located.

Helen Caulton-Harris, director of Health and Human Services for the city of Springfield, said her office has been referring individuals who call about sharps disposal to a site operated by Tapestry Health at 130 Maple St.

Tapestry Health Lavoz Program Supervisor Nellie Kuilan told Reminder Publications that free sharps collections take place on the building's lower level Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Individuals with questions can call that site at 363-9474.

"Tapestry Health has been a partner with us and accepts sharps [for disposal]," Caulton-Harris said. She noted, however, that the number of individuals using this free service has not been great, and her department has been considering expanding the sites were people can bring medical sharps for free disposal.

She said her department is considering creating a sharps disposal site at its adolescent health center, located at 11 Wilbraham Road, second floor, and also at its health center at 755 Worthington St. Neither site, she said, is expected to be up and running for collections by July 1.

"The department is also considering if there is an agency or organization of health center in the North End of Springfield where we can partner so we can assure that there is a disposal unit that is accessible to the major corridors of Springfield," Caulton-Harris said. She added that, given the growing use of injectable medicines for pets, she is considering contacting the Thomas J. O'Connor Animal Control Center about placing a sharps collection container at the site.

"The city is thinking about how to implement a broader [sharps] disposal program so we can make sure all individuals have access," Caulton-Harris said. "We need to make sure we are giving folks information about what they can do."

Lisa Sanders, health director for the city of Chicopee, said her office is not conducting a sharps collection. If residents call asking what to do with home medical sharps she directs them to bring these items either to Tapestry Health, located at 130 Maple Street in Springfield, or to the Holyoke Health Center, 230 Maple St., Holyoke, where there is a sharps kiosk outside of the pharmacy. Disposal is free at either site, she said.

Katie Gallagher, assistant director for the Holyoke Board of Health said her city has had a prohibition against sharps disposal in household trash for some time.

"It's in Holyoke's code of ordinances," she said.

Because of that regulation, the city maintains a couple of sharps disposal kiosks — one at the Holyoke Health Center and another at CEPA on Appleton Street. Gallagher said residents could call the Holyoke Health Center at 420-2200 to ask about drop-off hours.

"We are working on putting in another [kiosk] for the city and more details on the fourth [location] will be forthcoming," Gallagher added. She said there are also mail-back disposal programs available though local pharmacies. The cost to purchase the sharps container at local pharmacies, she noted, is about $5.

"I don't know how much it costs to mail it back," she said.

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