Medical waste mystery at beach

August 25, 2008 3:53:43 PM PDT
Investigators are looking into a medical waste mystery at the Jersey shore, after two beach evacuations over the weekend. Swimmers are in the water and families are back on the beach in Avalon today after a weekend where beaches had to be closed twice because of medical waste washing ashore.

"Public works came out at 7 this morning, scoured the beaches and everything's fine," Captain Murray Wolf of the Avalon Beach Patrol said.

However, it was not fine Saturday when 150 needles, plastic needle caps and cotton swabs washed up along an almost mile-long stretch between 9th Street and 24th. The beach was reopened Sunday, but closed again after more washed up that afternoon.

"They just warned us there was medical waste coming in and they wanted everybody off the beaches," Jeff Kinsey of Souderton, Pennsylvania said.

Today, the crowds returned, but some beachgoers are concerned.

"It's really scary. Imagine watching your kids play on the beach and picking up a needle and then putting it in their mouths," Tara Buggie of Summit, New Jersey said.

"You want to have a fun vacation, be safe, come down here and you're still on edge. It's not relaxing," Shelley Hoisington of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania said.

"It looks fine today. Obviously, we're here with the kids. We haven't been in the water yet. I would probably go in, but I doubt I'll take them in," Jacob Capps of Summit, New Jersey said.

Because the medical waste was mostly concentrated in a 9-block area rather than up and down the coast, officials think it probably didn't come from an offshore barge or from a spill up north, but may have been dumped locally.

"Nobody knows really if it came off a boat or was dumped off a jetty or anything like this, but in all likelihood investigators right now want to see if it was of local origin," Avalon spokesman Scott Wahl said.

The State Attorney General's office is leading the investigation to find out who dumped the medical waste, using the serial numbers on the syringes to help track the source.

Meanwhile the beaches remain clean and open and local officials want to keep it that way.

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