Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Region 'actively' working on problem of discarded needles in Cambridge, official says

A Region of Waterloo Public Health official says the agency is "actively" working to solve the problem of discarded needles in Cambridge after a volunteer group picked up 100 in three hours on the weekend.

Public health official acknowledges needle litter problem after volunteers pick up 100 in 3 hours

A Region of Waterloo Public Health official says the agency is "actively" working to solve the problem of discarded needles in Cambridge after a volunteer group picked up 100 in three hours on the weekend. (Matthew Blackie/Facebook)

A Region of Waterloo Public Health official says the agency is "actively" working to solve the problem of discarded needles in Cambridge after a volunteer group picked up 100 in three hours on the weekend.

Grace Bermingham, harm reduction manager for the Region of Waterloo Public Health, acknowledged on CBC's Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition that the issue has some urgency given that a toddler was pricked by a discarded needle on Sept. 27 near the Grand River.

"Yeah, that sounds like it's something that we will be looking at," Bermingham said Thursday.

"Now obviously, we'll be working much more intensely with the city of Cambridge around this issue. We are looking to have solutions that will both address the issue in the interim, so right now, the immediate issue, and then also some more sustainable solutions. That means that we will be looking at a better tracking system."

During its first community clean up on Oct. 21, newly formed volunteer group, A Clean Cambridge, collected 100 needles in three hours. (Chris Vanclief/Facebook)

Bermingham said solutions could include more patrolling and cleanup of areas where many discarded needles have been found and not only when complaints by the public are made. 

"We are looking on interim solutions to make sure that those areas that are most deeply impacted are cleaned up."

She said the agency has been told by residents that the problem is particularly bad in the community of Galt and has been so for the past couple of months.

According to A Clean Cambridge, which has more than 3,200 members on Facebook, volunteers on a community cleanup day last Saturday found most of 100 the needles behind a public health building where the region runs a harm reduction program that provides people with free sterile needles and syringes.

Bermingham said drug users, when they pick up the needles, have a talk with a public health nurse about the need to dispose of needles safely to ensure no one, including people in the community, are injured. 
This needle was found in Soper Park in Cambridge, according to Clifford Vanclief, a member of A Clean Cambridge. (Clifford Vanclief/Facebook)

Drug users are given containers, either large or small, to dispose of the needles, she said.

When asked how many free needles are distributed every year by the region, Bermingham was unable to provide a specific number.

"We give out a fair number in the region each year," she said.

She said he needle syringe program is designed to prevent the spread of blood-borne infections, including HIV and Hepatitis C.

Task Force to take 'initial steps'

Meanwhile, the city of Cambridge has formed Community Outreach Task Force, which has members from more than 25 groups in the city, partly to respond to the problem.

At a meeting last Friday, the task force decided it will take "initial steps":

  • Installing and expanding the number of security cameras in downtown areas and trails.
  • Offering sharp disposal containers to local businesses.
  • Responding to calls on public and private properties about needle debris.
  • Patrolling parks for needle debris.

It said in a news release that it would also work with community groups and public health officials to help train people on debris clean up and work on improving public education about safe needle disposal.

Mary Jane Sherman, spokesperson for A Clean Cambridge, wrote in a Facebook post that the group's focus is needle cleanup.

"Our goal is safer streets, parks, trails and schools for all residents especially our children and youth . As you may or may not know, a drug epidemic is sweeping our nation and has landed right here in our beautiful Cambridge. This group has been created so we can come together and help make the streets safe again," her post reads.

A Clean Cambridge is planning on doing another community clean up Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. at St. Anne Catholic Elementary School in Cambridge. 

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