October 22, 2021

Legislator awaits contract on syringe drop off project

On pins over needles

Todd R. McAdam

Dave Clay with Cortland County’s maintenance department, pokes through the shrubbery by the Civil War monument at Courthouse Park, looking for used hypodermic needles. Clay and his colleagues scan the park almost daily to make sure people — particularly children — don’t encounter needles.

Dave Clay with the Cortland County maintenance department looked around the fountain at Courthouse Park in Cortland. It’s a routine he and his co-workers have gone through almost daily for years.

“We were spring cleaning six years ago,” he said Friday, collecting twigs and leaves, when someone reached under a bush. “Bingo, there’s a syringe.”

The needles they find go into an oversized Folger’s coffee can, to be disposed of later. The task isn’t something anyone asked them to do, but they’ll do it anyhow.

If Cortland County Health Director Catherine Feuerherm gets enough support from the Legislature, soon Clay and others will be able to safely dispose of syringes in drop-off locations.

The plan is to have three locations — one at the county office building, one at the Homer Police Department and one at Cortland City Hall.

Found a needle?

Cortland City Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy said to call the police department at 607-753-3001 and officers will collect and properly dispose of the needle.

However, Cortland police Deputy Chief Paul Sandy said Friday as far as he knows the concept hasn’t been brought up by Mayor Brian Tobin to the council yet.

The boxes would be provided by and taken care of by Southern Tier AIDS Program.

It happens more frequently, nowadays, and the department has modified its equipment to give workers a longer reach and greater safety.

Clay pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves and poked through the shrubbery.

The fountain is a popular spot for needle litter, as well as the benches by the veterans memorials nearby.

He found one earlier that morning by a stage set up in the park, and workers try to walk through the field. “God forbid if there’s one out here,” he said. “A kid’s going to get stuck.”

While many legislators at a recent Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting supported the idea, some raised concerns over people being educated about what to do if they find a needle.

Feuerherm said in the city the police have been the go-to responders for picking up and discarding the items.

“To me the public schools should be doing something to caution these kids,” said George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer).

It is taught in schools though, said Tony Pace, a former legislator and health educator. He said kids are told to tell adults where it’s located so they can have it taken care of.

But the drop-off sites wouldn’t just be about keeping them off the street, but giving people who use syringes for medication purposes an easier way to dispose of the needles.

Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland) said when her mother was alive, she needed to take heparin — which requires a needle.

“There was no safe way to dispose of that until we got to the drug take back,” she said. “I think it’s just helping to keep our neighborhood and community safer.”

The committee tabled the motion until Feuerherm had a contract with the company that clarifies who is responsible for emptying the receptacles and providing an out clause if the county feels it no longer wants to participate.

The committee is expected to have the contract in November, which it would need to approve before the Legislature can consider it.