A dangerous consequence of the ongoing opioid epidemic is discarded hypodermic needles littering city streets, playgrounds, and parks. What was supposed to be a safe route for children to walk to an elementary school in Springfield, Massachusetts was found littered with discarded syringes.
While walking with students to the William DeBerry Elementary school one morning this week as part of a safe routes to school initiative, Beatrice Dewberry said it was the children who started pointing to the syringes, tiny liquor bottles, and other trash along Monroe Street.
"This path, every single day the children from the State Street side walk down," said Dewberry. "It has been identified as a safer access point. So, for them to have to travel this everyday and see all the debris, and needles and liqour bottles it is kind of sad and disheartening."
Dewberry, a community outreach manager with the Wayfinders housing agency, said the city’s Department of Health and Human Services was called and someone responded immediately to pick up the discarded syringes.
Then, with the help of two city councilors, community activists assembled within 24 hours to address the mess.
With rakes, shovels, and their gloved hands about two dozen people cleaned up the litter along Monroe Street outside the DeBerry school. A syringe that was discovered in a pile of wet leaves was collected by a health department worker and deposited into a plastic sharps container.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman, who chairs the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, posted an appeal on his Facebook page for help with the cleanup and was thrilled with the response.
" We probably actually have too many people, but that is not a bad thing because I think it shows we care about our community," Lederman said addressing the volunteers.
City Councilor Melvin Edwards, who is president of Keep Springfield Beautiful, an affiliate of the national anti-litter organization Keep America Beautiful, provided the trash bags, gloves and other supplies.
"So I am really really proud of my neighbors and my community for doing this," said Eddwards.
DeBerry Principal Elizabeth Fazio came out to thank the volunteers and said in the end she believed it would be a positive learning experience for the children.
"We need to lead by example and I think this is a great opportunity to show our students this is what we do: we gather together to clean up our community," said Fazio.
Springfield does not keep data on discarded hypodermic needles. Steven Stathis, the city’s Environmental Health Director, estimated that about six calls a month come in to report a discovery of used syringes.
" More in the summer," he added. " Unfortunately, we do find them throughout the city. All the neighborhoods have experienced needles."
Later this year, a state-sanctioned needle exchange program is scheduled to launch in Springfield. The idea is to reduce the spread of diseases through the sharing of needles, and also to provide a place to safely dispose of syringes.