AMHERST - Nothing spreads fear on the recycling line more than a needle.
During November and December alone, workers on the line at the Cumberland Joint Services Management Authority's recyling facility at the Little Forks landfill reported 13 incidents of needles, sharps and lancets showing up mixed in with recyclables.
"It can be really dangerous and it's definitely scary for the workers, especially if one of them gets pricked by a needle," supervisor Heather Harrison said while looking over a collection of medical sharps and lancets that have been collected from the line.
Normally, there are about 20 incidents a year involving the discovery of medical waste in the recycling stream.
When a sharp or lancet is located, the line is stopped and someone has to don the safety gloves and remove the waste from the line. The recyclables in the area of the medical waste is run off the line and taken to the landfill to avoid the risk of exposure or contamination and the landfill is notified of the possible presence of medical waste so its workers can take precautions as well.
While it's an inconvenience, fellow supervisor Michelle Canfield said the risk to those on the line is greater. If a worker gets pricked by a needle, he or she has to go to the hospital to get checked out and then has to return on several occasions for blood tests over several months.
The number of sharps and lancets found varies from individual needles to jars and containers full of them and Harrison said they've been found in milk containers, two-litre pop bottles and even Kleenex boxes.
"They look like diabetic needles and that's what we're hoping they are," said Harrison. "We also get stuff that looks like it comes from a vet with large syringes, some of them have fluids in them. They're not coming from the vet clinic, but from barns."
Among the other things showing up in the recycling stream are IV bags and colostomy bags.
CJSMA waste reduction co-ordinator Brenda Rioux said every effort is made to identify the source of the waste. She said it's also important for the organization to remind the public about options for the safe disposal of medical waste.
"There is a safe sharps program in which residents can go to a pharmacy and pick up a container for sharps, needles and lancets," said Rioux. "When the container is almost full they can take it back to the pharmacy. That ensures proper disposal."