PALM BEACH, Fla. - Needles, intravenous pouches and vials of blood are a few examples of the medical waste workers for Friends of Palm Beach have been finding recently while combing the beach for trash, which they do every weekday.
Friends of Palm Beach Founder Diane Buhler said the amount of medical waste on the beach has increased since Tropical Storm Emily.
“Unfortunately, we’re finding them more often now because of the tropical storms that have passed through already,” she said. “They have wreaked their havoc on the islands and the trash on the islands typically are right on the edge of the beach, so it’s washing it into the ocean.”
Buhler said the medical waste then gets to the shores of Palm Beach from islands around the Caribbean by way of currents. She said the opioid epidemic locally isn’t to blame.
“The easterly currents are bringing it to us and then the Gulf Stream is bringing in north and then the seaweed and the winds just bring it to the beach,” she said.
Workers for Friends of Palm Beach mainly find medical waste hidden in seaweed on the shore.
This week, Vickie Reisdorf, who works for Friends of Palm Beach, found what appeared to be a hypodermic needle in seaweed.
“I’m so glad that I found it before a child did or someone stepping on it unknowingly," Reisdorf said.
Reisdorf also recently found a vial of blood while combing through seaweed.
“It’s potentially hazardous,” Buhler said.
Friends of Palm Beach use a biohazard container to collect the medical waste and bring it to the fire department for proper disposal. Buhler said they’ve been filling up a container every two weeks recently.
A variety of trash, including medical waste, pose a risk to marine life.
“The trash and the plastics are causing the immediate harm,” Buhler said. “The medical waste, if ingested, is causing the problem too.”
As for people, she said contracting diseases isn’t the main concern.
“The sun, the ocean, the elements have taken care of that,” she said.
However, Buhler said needles especially can still cause harm to people on the beach though because they could poke someone who doesn’t realize they’re there.
“I do warn beachgoers if we find something not so innocuous like a harmful needle, that it’s around,” Buhler said.