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Santa Monica Group Says County’s Decision on Syringe Policy a "Setback"
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

June 20, 2016 -- The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ decision last week not to institute a major drug and syringe (also known as “sharps”) take-back program funded by pharmaceutical companies has angered various organizations, including Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay.

The water quality watchdog called the decision “a setback” and “bad news,” but hopes the proposal will have a better chance of passage after November, when two of the three supervisors who supported a less-aggressive plan leave office due to term limits.

Heal the Bay supported the proposed ordinance calling for a major overhaul, saying the limited number of disposal options means people are polluting the beaches with syringes. It collected more than 1,300 signatures on a petition.

The board voted 3-0 last Tuesday for a plan that has the County and pharmaceutical groups working together on education and outreach about existing disposal options, including drop-off locations at a handful of Sheriff’s Department sites and Walgreens (none in Santa Monica).

The Department of Public Health will issue a report in November about the success of this policy.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica resident whose district includes this city, and Hilda Solis abstained.

Kuehl said she looked forward to receiving the report because she believed it would show “how weak it is, how ineffective it is and how much more we need.”

The board heard from several people prior to the vote, including representatives of pharmaceutical and related companies who said a program similar to the one proposed in the ordinance has been a failure in Alameda County.

Cost was also cited as a reason for opposition.

Jimmy Jackson from the trade group Biocom said the proposal would harm its effort “to try and build and coordinate the bioscience hubs within Los Angeles County so that the county can better realize the economic benefit of the industry and the jobs it creates.”

He added, “I can think of no greater threat to that effort than the passage of a flawed ordinance which effectively sends a message that the industry is not welcome in this county.”

Supporters of the ordinance were not persuaded by the economic argument.

Heidi Sanborn from the National Stewardship Action Council told the board the industry makes billions of dollars annually in Los Angeles County alone, and the cost of funding the program would not be a burden.

The board also heard from retiree-advocacy groups that said seniors have a difficult time getting rid of their sharps as well as environmental organizations saying the limited number of syringe disposal options means people are making environmentally hazardous decisions.

“Sharps are being disposed of in our sewers and storm drains and trash cans, risking the public health of the beach-going population and our sanitation workers,” said Leslie Griffin, Heal the Bay’s beach water quality scientist.

She continued, “If this ordinance keeps even a fraction of those used syringes out of our storm drains and sewer, Heal the Bay sees the ordinance as more than a worthwhile effort.”

The proposed ordinance would only apply to unincorporated portions of Los Angeles County. City Councils would have to adopt it to apply to their jurisdictions.

There are currently no syringe drop-off locations in Santa Monica.

The City’s website recommends residents contact Stericycle Environmental Solutions, which has a contract with the local government, to arrange a pickup. This can be done by calling 800-714-1195.

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