SANTA ROSA – Santa Rosa’s Recology Center has a syringe problem. Hypodermic needles are being improperly placed in recycling sources at alarming levels which puts workers at serious risk.

“There’s a ton of hypodermic needles coming through the recycling streams,” Fred Stemmler, General Manager of Recology Sonoma Marin said.

Stemmler says they’re seeing syringes in recycling streams at “an epidemic level.”

“Needles don’t belong in recycling,” he added.

Yet they’re consistently finding their way there, regularly stabbing sorters and sending people to the hospital for HIV testing. Fortunately no employees have tested positive.

Stemmler says they’ve been auditing local hospitals and pharmacies trying to find the source of improper disposal but have yet to pinpoint it. He says it’s a matter of education and resources.

If you’re thinking IV drug users are to blame, Stemmler says, “it is guaranteed part of it. I imagine a larger part of it is people who have diabetes and use needles to maintain their own health.”

Sonoma County only has three needle drop off locations listed on its website including Dollar Drug, Healdsburg District Hospital, and Lark Rexall Drugs. The hospital is the only location that doesn’t charge a drop-off fee.

At the other two locations you have to purchase an FDA approved container and pay the center a drop-off fee for disposal. Disposal of the hazardous waste costs some locations $600-$800 a month.

“Over time it will add up but its the right thing to do,” said Julie Pearson of Santa Rosa.

Pearson’s 16-year-old son has diabetes. She spends the money and takes the time to drive to Dollar Drug to drop off her son’s needles.

“It’s possible people on the margins might not have the resources to do that or might not have a car to get to a proper facility,” Pearson said.

In 2021 a law will go into effect forcing syringe manufacturers to pay for collection, but Stemmler wants something to change now.

“I think it will make a difference (the 2021 law), the concern I have is more immediate, It’s getting from now until then.”