By Dari Kotzker
The sand’s pristine today, but dirty syringes washed ashore in Long Branch last week. Before that, the tide dumped three dozen syringes at Island Beach State Park. Investigators have no way to track the medical waste back to its origins. That’s why Senate candidate and Congressman Frank Pallone will reintroduce his bill — the Medical Waste Management Act of 2013.
“It would track medical waste. Right now that’s done at the state level, but there’s a lot of inconsistency from one state to the next and of course a state like New Jersey that has very good law can still have medical waste wash up from New York or other states, which is what we believe is actually happening,” Pallone said.
The late 1980s saw beach closings due to medical waste. Although stringent state laws subsequently helped keep needles off New Jersey beaches, history is starting to repeat itself.
“We’re beginning to see signs of slippage. We are beginning to see medical waste wash-ups again. We’re beginning to see dead and dying dolphins washing up on our beaches. We’re even having proposals to start industrializing the ocean again,” said Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf.
“Last week’s float-ups to Island Beach State Park I think raise the alarm again, not just here but nationally, that we shouldn’t have more needles on our beach than an HMO, that a day at the beach shouldn’t mean a trip to the doctor,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
Environmentalists today say one of the contributing factors to medical waste and garbage washing up on the shore is the weather.
“One of the problems we face is even though we think rain is good for water, when it comes to coast, it’s actually not. The more it rains, the more pollution we have, whether it’s garbage, sewage or animal waste, that becomes a big problem,” Tittel said.
Clean Ocean Action polices the beach, looking for medical waste every month in Sandy Hook. They always find syringes.
“Three syringes were the worst discovery and they were scattered in the ocean debris, so it would’ve been really easy to step on them without seeing them first,” said Clean Ocean Action volunteer Mollie Passacantando.
Pallone’s bill also includes higher penalties for illegal dumpers and gets the EPA involved.