Ashley Hicks pulled into the parking lot of the J&J Market on Southeast Stephens Street in Roseburg last week and as she stepped out of her car, she saw a hypodermic needle on the pavement.
Hicks said she couldn’t just ignore a dirty needle that could spread hepatitis C, the HIV virus or other diseases, “I didn’t want to leave it and have someone else step on it,” she said.
Hicks called an emergency dispatcher and requested an officer come and properly dispose of the needle. The dispatcher asked Hicks whether she could get a soda pop cup from the store and use a plastic lid to scoop the needle into the cup.
“I told her, ‘No, ma’am. I will not do that.’ I’m not trained. I don’t have gloves,” Hicks recalled.
Hicks was confronted with the same problem not uncommonly faced by residents. What to do about a dirty needle endangering the public?
Dispatchers typically receive several calls a day from people who have found dirty needles, the supervisor of the Douglas County dispatch center, Katy Stall, said. “It’s a big problem,” she said.
Dispatchers ask whether the person is comfortable scooping the needle into a container, she said. If not, an officer is sent to deal with it.
Hicks said she waited outside the store for nearly an hour but no officer came.
Stall said an officer was sent to the scene but was diverted to a higher-priority call.
Hicks, a member of a south Roseburg neighborhood group committed to cleaning up the area, called several times, including calls to the emergency 911 line.
Stall said residents should call nonemergency numbers to report needles, but not 911 unless there’s an actual emergency.
When an officer didn’t come, J&J store clerk Summer Payne grabbed a broom and swept the needle into a dustpan. She then placed everything into a Dumpster.
“I wasn’t sure what to do, so I threw it all away: the needle, the broom and the dustpan,” Payne said.
It turns out that it’s illegal under Oregon law to throw needles and other medical waste into the trash. Those items could place trash haulers, landfill workers or people going through a trash bin at risk.
“Having the store clerk sweep it up was probably the best solution, but throwing it out in the Dumpster wasn’t,” said Marilyn Carter, Douglas County Public Health promotion program manager. “We probably need to do a better job of educating people how to dispose of those things properly.”
Loose needles in trash are a concern for Roseburg Disposal Co. employees, General Manager Dori John said. Needles can poke through plastic or paper bags and stick workers handling them, she said.
“We will refuse to dump a container if we know there are needles in it,” John said.
In picking up a needle, gloves should be worn and the needle picked up away from the sharp end. The needle should then be placed for temporary storage in a clear plastic bottle with a lid.
To be disposed of properly, needles must be placed in an approved red container made of rigid plastic and containing a biohazard symbol. Containers may be obtained at any of the county garbage transfer stations at no charge. When full, the container may be exchanged for a new one, again at no charge.
Individual needles may be deposited in a drop box outside the Douglas County Health Department, 621 W. Madrone St.
“We encourage people to use that drop box,” Carter said.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at email@example.com.