CARIBOU, Maine — Three years ago, Lisa Prescott, a medical technologist at Cary Medical Center in Caribou, grew concerned about the way that people in the area were disposing of medical sharps — or needles — that they used to treat illnesses such as diabetes.
According to state health statistics, there are about 6,000 people in Aroostook County who use needles, lancets or syringes, and more than 12 million injections by sharps are completed across Maine each year. While the state has guidelines in place for the disposal of medical sharps, there had been no formal program in place in Aroostook County or a location where people could go to quickly and safely dispose of used needles and syringes, until Cary Medical Center, spearheaded by Prescott, developed a program.
In recognition of their effort, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho has awarded Prescott and Cary Medical Center with an EPA Environmental Merit Award. Bill Flagg, director of community relations and development at Cary, accepted the award on behalf of the Caribou hospital.
The awards were handed out late last month in Boston, and Aho said that Cary was nominated because it used education to increase public safety.
“The Department of Environmental Protection nominated Cary Medical Center for this award because by collaborating with local partners, it was able to increase community awareness on the benefits of safe sharps disposal and the safety of solid waste personnel,” Aho said.
Flagg said Wednesday that many people should have been there to receive the award.
“A number of agencies and funding sources were involved, and we are very grateful for their support,” he said. “We are planning a celebration event where we will invite all the players and share the award with them.”
With the help of a $3,500 gift from the Caribou Rotary Club, the hospital purchased a kiosk in March 2011 to provide for the safe disposal of medical sharps. The kiosk now sits at the Caribou Police Department.
The kiosk was designed by Chrysalis, an environmental services company, and is equipped with a number of safety features. It has a light indicating when the unit is close to full and an automatic locking system that prevents people from placing material in it when the unit is full.
As such, the interior container can be removed and secured and the contents picked up by Oxus, a medical waste disposal company. The waste is then incinerated at the Oxus facility in Pittsfield.
The state has requirements in place for disposing of sharps. People who use syringes and lancets at home, the office or elsewhere are required to place discarded sharps in rigid containers that are resistant to leaks and punctures. Preferred containers are made of heavy plastic and have screw-on caps, such as liquid laundry soap bottles.
Once these containers are full they may be placed in the trash or taken to a hospital that accepts biomedical waste. Users also can contract with a state DEP licensed biomedical waste transporter to pick up biomedical waste at their home. Maine law also allows discarded sharps to be mailed via the United States Postal Service to properly permitted treatment or disposal sites.
Some hospitals charge a fee for sharps disposal, however, and there also is a cost with mailing. A few towns prohibit the disposal of household biomedical waste at their solid waste facilities.
In October 2011, the Cary Medical Center Safe Sharps Disposal Program was expanded to place a kiosk in the lobby of the Presque Isle Police Department. Last June, officials from the DEP presented Cary with a $10,000 grant to purchase additional disposal kiosks for the towns of Fort Kent, Madawaska, Fort Fairfield and Houlton.
Prescott has been lauded for her efforts in spearheading the safe sharps disposal program. Officials said that she conducted all of the necessary research prior to presenting her ideas about community education and disposal to the Cary administration.
By the end of 2012, a total of 86 boxes or 4,300 pounds of community medical sharps had been collected at six partnering community sites.