A number of hypodermic needles washed up on the beach this week near the Santa Ana River mouth, at the Newport Beach and Hunting Beach city borders.
As beach-goers have reported seeing the needles among other debris on the sand authorities from the city and county have reacted quickly to clean up the potential health concern.
Newport Beach Police Department collected five needles on Monday, after the initial call was reported to police, said NBPD Lt. Jeff Brouwer.
County officials first got the report of syringes on the sand Tuesday morning. Within a few hours they had temporarily closed off the county’s portion of the land and had a six person crew with gloves and rakes out there to identify (and collect) needles, reported Orange County Public Works Public Information Officer Shannon Widor.
“Anytime there is a public health risk we want to get on top of it immediately,” Widor said.
The county team collected and properly disposed of about 45 needles.
There have been some differing reports, Brouwer said. Some people reported that they saw dozens, but between the police, lifeguards, and county and city public works less than 75 were recorded as collected.
“It’s not as widespread as we initially thought,” Brouwer reported.
Most of the needles and other debris had been cleaned up by Wednesday afternoon, said Newport Beach Public Works Municipal Operations Director Mike Pisani.
None of them had heard any reports of injuries to either humans or animals.
Some of the needles are still wrapped in packages and/or still capped and appear to be unused, all three confirmed. It’s unclear if any showed signs of any kind of residue or substance, Brouwer added.
They have been in the water for some time, so it is difficult to determine whether or not they have been used, Brouwer said.
Lifeguards reported that some appeared to be expired and about a few years old, Widor said.
This location appears to be the only area where the county has received reports of this many needles, Widor said. It’s not uncommon to come across a few discarded needles, but this many at the same time and all in one location is a concern, he added.
The needles very likely washed down with the rain, but they can’t confirm where they might have entered the storm drain, Widor said.
Someone may have had a bag of them and threw them over an overpass, they could have been discarded from homeless residents further up the river, or they could have been embedded in the sand or vegetation and got washed loose with the rain.
“We can’t pinpoint where they came from,” he said.
Any time there are heavy rains “junk,” including vegetation and other trash, gets washed down the storm drain from the inland cities, Brouwer explained.
“Especially since it hasn’t rained strong for a while and then two strong storms in the course of a week,” Pisani added.
The county oversees about 380 flood control channels throughout OC and all get regularly monitored and cleaned out.
Per their usual protocol, the county increased their work activity before (removing debris or tree limbs, etc.) and after the recent rain storms last week.
“This is what the men and women of public works do all year,” Widor said, “monitor storm drains.”
Unlike the county’s regular cleanup before and after a storm, this week they hired an outside environmental cleanup specialist contractor to deal with the hazardous material.
“We took an escalated precaution,” Widor said.
The needles were intertwined with other debris and vegetation, Pisani explained.
City crews also do a regular cleanup after storms, the difference this time is that, because of the attention to a specific area, they got to that section of beach sooner than normal, Pisani explained.
He warned beach-goers to be careful after any storm and stay away from any broken glass and other debris.
A number of residents have reported that they have personally collected and disposed of many of the needles, although none of the officials recommend doing that.
“We don’t advise people to pick them up,” Widor said.
Brouwer suggests to “not mess with it” and call NBPD, the city or the county to collect and dispose of any found needles.
NBPD drops the found needles off at a local hospital for proper hazardous material disposal.
“We don’t want people walking around with one and getting scratched or poked,” Brouwer explained.
There is rain in the forecast again this weekend and because this is a heightened issue at the moment county crews will step up their cleanup work and look specifically for additional needles.
This is an example of what can go into a storm drain in an inland neighborhood and how it will get washed down to the beach.
Widor strongly encouraged people to dispose of waste and trash properly and clean up their own property before a storm.