San Francisco Recology workers face unexpected bio-hazard

As San Francisco recycler Recology expands to other cities, it finds itself contending with unexpected hazards that must be addressed immediately lest employees get hurt.

When Recology got the account to handle recycling and waste in Sonoma and Marin counties, it acquired this aging recycling center which it will soon renovate. Here, workers sort materials so they can be baled for reprocessing into new products.

"We pull cardboard first because it's large and its dimensions obscure that are below it or tucked into it. So, it requires a lot of reaching and manual pull," said Recology Sonoma/Marin Manager Fred Stemmler.

But, as this work goes on, used, but still sharp hypodermic needles have been showing up on this line, presenting a real health hazard to the workers. "Needles are actually in the stream more than any of us here have seen before on other operating instances, said Mr. Stemmler.

Regardless of the source, needles have no business in a recycling center whatsoever.

"Legally it is hazardous waste and needs to be treated as such," said Stemmler. Beyond transmitting HIV/AIDS, needles can also transmit liver destroying hepatitis, heart lining inflammation, blood poisoning strep infections, cancer causing HTLV, TB, the range of sexually transmitted diseases and leg crippling paraparesis. 

This is not idle conversation and this is not a 'what if' scenario. Real people, on that line, have been getting hurt.

"A confirmed or suspected it, we call it; immediately to the hospital for testing and after that testing is complete, there's subsequent rounds of testing to see if there are any long term impacts," said Stemmler.

Sorters all wear the latest in anti-puncture gloves and arm guards. The solution is: no needles in the waste stream.

Safe needle disposal kits are available from pharmacies for under ten dollars that can be mailed to hazardous waste facilities as well as several agencies that will accept them. 

"I'm hoping that we can partner or that maybe even Sonoma/Marin Recology can introduce a no cost solution for customers.," said Recology's Stemmler.

Unsafe disposal of hazardous waste is also a crime and ignorance of the law is no excuse.