About a year ago, one of the boxes was placed near Harvest House in Glace Bay; since that time, it has collected about 30,000 used sharps.
“(It was) a pilot, just to see if people would use it, and it’s been very well-utilized, they clean it out every week,” said Christine Porter, executive director of the AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton. “It’s doing what it’s meant to do.”
More recently, about two months ago a box was placed behind the building on Bentinck Street in Sydney that houses the AIDS Coalition and Sharp Advice Needle Exchange.
“We’re not open 24-7, so if people want to drop their used sharps there, they certainly are welcome to do so,” Porter said.
The initiative came out of a blood-borne pathogen working group that the coalition and the Cape Breton District Health Authority formed a couple of years ago to devise a strategy for the district.
The health authority purchased the boxes. Porter noted the needle exchange has limited staff, and they hope to meet with CBRM waste management officials to discuss them taking over collecting the sharps from the boxes.
“We just don’t have the human resources to take this on,” Porter said.
She noted similar programs are in place in other areas.
In consultation with the CBRM, Porter said they hope to determine where to put the remaining boxes, although she noted they “have a good idea” where they should go, based on areas where discarded needles tend to be discovered. They have done an unofficial needs assessment to see where sharps are being found. Police commonly respond to calls of discarded needles being found.
“It’s a lot of man-hours put into finding a sharp on the ground,” Porter said.
Porter hopes to have the boxes installed before the frost sets into the ground, because the larger units must be screwed into the ground.
She noted the boxes’ contents are well-labeled, and they indicate there are biohazards inside.
Improperly disposed needles pose a relatively small pubic health risk, Porter said, but they are alarming for many people.
“People really don’t realize that the risk is very minimal, but I certainly do understand the concerns of people and definitely we need, for community safety and public health reasons, to get on this and get them out of there,” she said.