Sharpening laws on medical waste

The Farmersville City Council tabled most of the items at its Sept. 10 meeting to the next meeting due to the absence of city manager Rene Miller and council members Paul Boyer and Leonel Benavides.

But it was still a productive meeting for Mayor Don Rowlett and Councilmen Mike Santa and Larry Miller who heard comments from California Waste Management Authority (CWMA) and a local pharmacist about the possibility of a countywide sharps ordinance.

Anne Magana, an administrator with CWMA, said the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and fellow city councilmembers in the County’s eight incorporated cities are developing an ordinance for the disposal of home generated medical or “sharps” waste, such as syringes or lancelets used by diabetics. One possibility being looked at is that the retailers of sharps (pharmacies) be required to take back the waste free of charge.

In September 2008, California legislators passed SB 1305 making it illegal to dispose of sharps in trash. However, the law did not provide funding and most communities cannot afford the cost of having the medical waste picked up. More than 486,000 Californians self-inject daily and many others inject different medications. This leads to more than 355 million home generated sharps that need proper disposal.

Magana said the ordinance is based on a San Luis Obispo County ordinance which requires retailers of sharps (pharmacies) to implement a program to take back, free of charge, home-generated sharps waste. The ordinance limits the amount the pharmacy is required to take back to what was purchased at that pharmacy and allows pharmacies to require proof of purchase before taking them back.

“We are looking at a program where the user can have a sharps container at home and when that is full take it back to their pharmacy and put it in a kiosk there,” Magana said. “When that kiosk is full the pharmacy will call to have it picked up at a cost of around $100 a year for the pharmacy.”

Ken Womack, owner of Womack’s Pharmacy in Farmersville, said he was in favor of the ordinance when asked by the Mayor.

“At least we would be trying to do something,” said Womack. “I am willing to work with them and the sooner the better. It’s better to be ahead of the curve then behind it.”

Rowlett responded, “Here’s my two cents – society in any form is a blessing and government in any form is evil, but I trust him (Womack) if he agrees I will go along with it. What you are supposed to do is good. I am just worried about what may morph into. Will government be monitoring who is taking injections at home? When Mr. Womack sells someone a syringe will he have to report it?”

Womack said, “All I know is that we were discussing this when I was in pharmacy school 35 years ago. It was a problem then and it’s a bigger problem now. There are a lot of very contagious diseases out there. We’ve got to do something.”

Womack said customers will have to purchase a sharps container to have them in their house in order for the pharmacy to accept them.

“I am willing to sell them at cost, which is about $2.50,” Womack said. “I just don’t know if people will make the extra effort. They need to be educated on the dangers. People do not realize the prevalence of Hepatitis C. About 7% of the population has it and many do not know it. It just takes one needle poking the right person and you have an outbreak.”

Currently, the only option for residents generating medical waste is expensive mail-in containers purchased from pharmacies. According to Jeff Dowlen, Public Works Analyst for the city of Farmersville, those who can’t afford the option often flush the waste down the drain.

“We find the in the sewer plant,” said Dowlen. “People just do not know what to do with them so they flush them.”

A lot of Farmersville residents mistakenly think that the needles and syringes are recyclable and end up throwing them in the recycle bin, according to the City’s waste hauler Sunset Waste Systems.

“Our workers going through the recyclable waste get poked by needles a lot,” said Sol Nunez, Recycling Coordinator for Sunset Waste Systems. “They have to wear special gloves just because it is such a problem.”

Councilman Miller was concerned about how the ordinance would be enforced.

“You can put an ordinance and laws on the books, but how do you make people follow them. Some people just don’t give a darn. I do have to say that I have been enlightened tonight about disposal issues.”

The council voted in favor of City staff collaborating with (CWMA) to support and develop the ordinance. Similar presentations have been given at City Council meetings in Exeter, Lindsay and Woodlake.

Start typing and press Enter to search