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Diabetics Find Needle Disposal Tricky in the Age of AIDS

August 1, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ Girls at a camp for diabetics once tossed used syringes into empty milk containers that went to the dump. But fear of AIDS has changed that, and the federal government is considering how millions of other American diabetics should dispose of their needles.

″It’s been a nightmare,″ said Shelley Yeager, director of the Clara Barton camp at Oxford in central Massachusetts. ″We’ve really had to be very careful.″

About 115 campers and counselors give themselves injections, some as often as four times a day, Yeager said. In addition, the camp uses about 600 lancets daily to test campers’ blood sugar.

There are an estimated 11 million diabetics nationwide, of whom about 2.5 million give themselves insulin shots each day, said Richard Kahn, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va.

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on a brochure advising diabetics of the best way to dispose of needles, said Robin Woods, a spokeswoman for the agency in Washington, D.C.

It will suggest that diabetics place ″sharps″ - the needle end of a syringe - in a hard plastic or metal container like a coffee can before throwing it in the trash, Woods said.

The association recommends people dispose of the needle and syringe ″in a way that it can’t be used again,″ Kahn said.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome has heightened concern about medical waste because the disease can be transmitted through contaminated hypodermic needles. AIDS, which attacks the body’s immune system, also can be transmitted through sexual contact.

The EPA drew up new rules on how hospitals dispose of medical waste after many U.S. beaches were fouled last summer.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has adopted new regulations on the disposal of infectious waste that take effect next week, but like the federal rules, they don’t apply to household waste, said the department’s Al Comproni.

The regulations require hospitals, doctors, funeral parlors and other generators of infectious waste to either ship used needles to certified waste disposal sites or sterilize them and grind them for disposal in a solid waste landfill.

The Clara Barton camp started changing its disposal methods about two years ago as AIDS became a concern, Yeager said.

All needles now are thrown in special plastic medical waste containers placed around the camp. This year, the camp built a shed on the soccer field just to house the disposable containers. Doctors pick them up periodically and take them back to a hospital where they are destroyed, Yeager said.

The Becton Dickinson Co. of Franklin Lakes, N.J., donates the needle containers, worth about $2 each. The camp uses about 20 containers a week, Yeager said.

Some companies are considering offering disposal services to individual diabetics.

Becton Dickinson sells needle containers to doctors and hospitals but may develop a container for home use, said Linda Schmitt, an assistant product manager.

″There really hasn’t been one designed for the consumers,″ Schmitt said.

Medical Waste Disposal Co. of Randolph is preparing to offer a home needle pickup service, said Debra Bornstein, a company official. It plans to charge $20 for door-to-door pickup and disposal.

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