November 24, 2012

Maine's rules lax on properly labeling, containing discarded medical sharps

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

Some states have laws addressing household sharps disposal. In Massachusetts, for example, it's illegal to dispose of them the way other household waste is. Instead, users are required to put the needles into approved collection containers and take them to collection centers.

In New York, hospitals and nursing homes are required to serve as sharps collection centers.

But Maine and many other states have few requirements for the disposal of household sharps, although a general recommendation is to dispose of them in tough, clearly labeled plastic containers.

Don Simoneau, a 60-year-old veteran from Fayette, has been active in the needle disposal issue for five years.

"I think the state of Maine has ducked the issue," he said.

A diabetic who was using five needles a day, Simoneau became involved after he was told to dispose of them in detergent bottles.

"I was appalled," he said. He said he knows people who use needles who have infections and other illnesses. "It didn't seem right to me."

Simoneau said a dangerous double standard exists.

"You wouldn't do that with hospital waste," he said. "It's against the law to do that. If I were to put them out there today, it would be crushed at the back end of the garbage truck. It's just too dangerous."

Partly because of Simoneau's efforts, state legislators crafted a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, that would have required manufacturers of sharps to be responsible for disposal.

Innes said that the bill was part of a larger set of seven initiatives that would make manufacturers more responsible for the final disposition of their products. It also made it illegal for people to put sharps in the solid waste stream.

Innes said the Department of Environmental Protection was initially supportive of the measures but withdrew its support after Gov. Paul LePage was elected.

The sharps bill was declared dead in January after the state Environment and Resources committee voted it down. Innes said it failed because of industry opposition.

Becton, Dickinson and Co., a company Innes said manufactures about 85 percent of the sharps used in Maine, was one of those that opposed the bill.

"Industry said they didn't think it was needed," she said.

Calls to the company's corporate communications office were not returned.

Innes said that the company's representatives minimized the issue.

"They say, 'Oh, it's fine. We have disposal boxes,'" Innes said.

Simoneau said he is tired of fighting the issue and that for him, at least, time is running out.

"I was told 'fine, you can bring that up next year.'" he said. "But I'm dying. I've had septic infections in my blood twice in the past month and a half. My body is fighting it again right now. Am I going to bring it to the Legislature next year? I probably won't be there."

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