Disposing of Used Sharps in Skagit County

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Millions of people use needles, syringes, and other injection tools to self-administer healthcare treatments each year. People use sharps to manage a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, psoriasis, and more.

If someone doesn’t have immediate access to an FDA-cleared container, it can be unclear how to dispose of used sharps. Disposal rules can vary by situation and location, which may lead to sharps being disposed of loosely—and improperly—in the trash.  Adding to possible confusion, disposal options are different for businesses and household-generated sharps waste.

For HOUSEHOLD-generated Sharps

An example of an FDA-cleared Sharps Container. For information about Sharps Disposal Containers, check out the FDA webpage.

The best way to dispose of sharps is by using a mail-order, FDA-cleared sharps container. When purchasing this type of container, people can mail back their full containers to the mail-order service that the container was purchased from.

It is important to note that FDA-cleared containers can be purchased from local and chain pharmacies; however, these containers may or may not come with instructions on how to mail them back. And unfortunately, FDA-cleared sharps containers cannot be disposed of with regular household garbage. If you have purchased an FDA-cleared sharps container and are unsure of how to dispose of it, ask your pharmacy or doctor’s office if they will accept your sharps container. You can also look for a disposal site by going to https://safeneedledisposal.org/.

If you cannot purchase an FDA-cleared mail-order sharps waste container in store or online, Skagitonians have another option for disposing of household generated sharps.

In Skagit County, people can dispose of household generated sharps—including used syringes, needles, and lancets—in a correctly labeled container in their household garbage. Follow the steps below to ensure that all used sharps are disposed of safely and properly.

Step 1: Store

Used sharps should be placed in an opaque, hard plastic or metal container with a screw-on or secured lid. An empty bleach or detergent bottle works well! Do not use glass or thin plastic.

Step 2: Seal

When ¾ full (don’t overfill!), screw the lid on tightly and seal around the lid with duct tape or plastic tape.

Step 3: Sticker

Label the container with a special Skagit County Public Health label “Warning: Syringes. Do NOT Recycle.” printed on bright orange or red colored paper. Tape the label securely to the container with clear plastic tape. Labels can be downloaded from the Environmental Health webpage here. You can also request labels from our office by calling (360) 416-1500.

Skagit County Public Health’s approved warning label.

Step 4: Dispose

Dispose of the container with your regular household trash. Do NOT recycle.

Gloves, soiled bandages, and other items should be places in securely fastened plastic bags and disposed of with your regular trash.

For BUSINESS-Generated Sharps

Business are not allowed to dispose of biohazardous sharps with regular solid waste. Businesses are required to dispose of their collected biohazardous sharps via a licensed biomedical waste handler. On-site pick up services and mail order services are available. Businesses can contact Stericycle or Waste Management – Health Care to schedule services.

What about disposing of my unwanted medications in my home?

If you have unwanted, unused, or expired medication, Skagit County residents can safely dispose of these items for free by taking them to secure drop boxes, ordering free mail-back envelopes and/or picking up mail-back envelopes from convenient mailer distribution locations throughout Skagit County.

To find updated information on drop box locations, request mailers, and find mailer distribution locations go to MED-Project.

For more information about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, visit our webpage at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/medicinereturn.htm.

For questions, please contact Skagit County Public Health by calling (360) 416-1500.


Top 6 Things to Know About VAERS

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has gotten a lot of attention on social media and in the news this year. This database, which includes hundreds of thousands of reports of health events that occurred minutes, hours, or days after vaccination, is a go to spot for many people looking for information about COVID-19 vaccine safety.

While VAERS is an extremely helpful tool used by experts to track adverse reactions and safety concerns associated with vaccinations (not just COVID-19, but all vaccines!), it is important to know a few things about the system before digging in too deeply.

Scientists and health experts consider VARES to be a starting point in the search for rare but potentially serious vaccine side effects. It is by no means the only system in place to track this data.

So, when reading about VAERS reports in the news or when talking with friends and loved ones about specific reports, be sure to have the following 6 things in mind:

1. VAERS is a national vaccine safety surveillance program that helps to detect unusual or unexpected reporting patterns of adverse events for vaccines.

Established in 1990, VAERS is the nation’s early warning system that monitors the safety of vaccines after they are authorized or licensed for use by the FDA. VAERS is part of the larger vaccine safety system in the United States that helps make sure all vaccines are safe. The system is co-managed by CDC and FDA.

Other pieces of this safety system include the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) project. These reporting systems are much better at assessing overall health risks and possible connections between adverse events and a vaccine.

2. VAERS accepts reports from anyone, including patients, family members, healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers.

Anyone can submit a report to VAERS — healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public. VAERS welcomes all reports, regardless of seriousness, and regardless of how likely the vaccine may have been to have caused the adverse event. Reports can be submitted successfully even if they are incomplete or are missing key details.

3. VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event. A report to VAERS does not mean the vaccine caused the event.

This fact has caused much confusion, specifically regarding the number of reported deaths associated with COVID-19 vaccines. In the past, there have been instances where people misinterpreted reports of death following vaccination as death caused by the vaccines; that is a mistake.

VAERS accepts all reports of adverse events following vaccination without judging whether the vaccine caused the adverse health event. Some reports to VAERS might represent true vaccine reactions, and others might be coincidental adverse health events not related to vaccination at all. Generally, a causal relationship cannot be established using information from VAERS reports alone.

Reports can also be made days, weeks, and months following a vaccination. That means that if a vaccinated person dies in a car accident, drowns, or dies from any other “natural” or “unnatural” cause, their death must be reported to VAERS as an adverse event. Since we’ve now vaccinated over 334 million people in the United States, it is to be expected that many deaths will occur coincidentally after vaccination.

4. VAERS is a passive surveillance system, meaning it relies on people sending in reports of their experiences after vaccination.

As a passive reporting system, VAERS relies on individuals to send in reports of adverse health events following vaccination.

The information collected by VAERS can quickly provide an early warning of a potential safety problem with a vaccine. Patterns of adverse events, or an unusually high number of adverse events reported after a particular vaccine, are called “signals.” If a signal is identified through VAERS, experts may conduct further studies to find out if the signal represents an actual risk.

5. Healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers are required by law to report certain events after vaccination.

Healthcare providers are required to report to VAERS the following adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination under Emergency Use Authorization, and other adverse events if later revised by FDA.

Some things that healthcare providers are required to report on include:

  • Vaccine administration errors, whether or not associated with an adverse event.
  • Serious adverse events regardless of death. This could include:
    1.  Death
    2.  A life-threatening adverse event
    3.  Inpatient hospitalization or prolongation of existing hospitalization
    4.  A persistent or significant incapacity or substantial disruption of the ability to conduct normal life functions
    5.  A congenital anomaly/birth defect
    6.  An important medical event that based on appropriate medical judgement may jeopardize the individual and may require medical or surgical intervention to prevent one of the outcomes listed above
  • Cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS).
  • Cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

Further, healthcare providers are encouraged to report to VAERS any additional clinically significant adverse effects following vaccination, even if they are not sure if vaccination caused the event.

6. If VAERS detects a pattern of adverse events following vaccination, other vaccine safety monitoring systems conduct follow up studies.

The information that the VAERS system provides to the FDA and CDC is vitally important. If it looks as though a vaccine might be causing a wide-spread problem, the FDA and the CDC will investigate further and take action if needed.

We saw this system in action just recently when the CDC paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). This pause allowed time for the FDA and CDC to investigate these reports and examine any possible linkages. A similar review process was followed when reports of myocarditis in the United States began to circulate. The J&J pause and investigation into cases of myocarditis are all signs that the VAERS reporting system is working extremely well! If at any point the CDC and FDA saw evidence showing a direct linkage between a vaccine and permanent disability and/or death, proper steps would be taken to ensure safety.

Note: For public awareness and in the interest of transparency, CDC is providing timely updates on the following serious adverse events of interest: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html


Hand Sanitizer Recall

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is preferred, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be an effective way to clean your hands when soap and water are not easily available. However, federal regulators are warning consumers to avoid nearly 150 different hand sanitizers because they contain dangerous chemicals or their alcohol levels are too low to be effective. Some of the hand sanitizer brands have been sold at national retailers like Walmart and Costco, which have recalled the products.

What is wrong with the recalled sanitizers?

Some hand sanitizers are being recalled because they contain methanol, also known as wood alcohol, which can be toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning. Hand sanitizers should never contain methanol, which is used industrially as a solvent and pesticide. Exposure to methanol can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.  

Can I just check product labels for methanol?

No, unfortunately looking at labels is not enough. According to the FDA, some of the products were mislabeled, so consumers would not be able to tell which hand sanitizers actually contain methanol. The FDA has compiled a list of the recalled products on its website. The best way to find out if your hand sanitizer was recalled is to check the FDA list.

Note: Scroll to the bottom of the FDA website to search the list of recalled products.

The FDA is urging consumers not to use any hand sanitizer products from the manufacturers on their list even if the product or particular lot number are not listed. If any of the identifiers match a product on the list, the FDA urges consumers to stop using the hand sanitizer. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain or mix with other liquids. You should dispose of the sanitizer bottle in a hazardous waste container, or at a hazardous waste collection facility.

General Safety Tips

It is important to understand that any hand sanitizer can be harmful when used improperly. The Washington Poison Center has issued a list of safety tips for hand sanitizer use:

  • Do not swallow any hand sanitizers.
  • Only use hand sanitizers for their intended purpose: to clean hands.
  • Supervise children when using hand sanitizer. Apply a small amount to the child’s hands, and have them rub their hands together until dry.
  • Keep hand sanitizers out of sight and out of reach of children when not in use.
  • Contact the Washington Poison Center immediately (1-800-222-1222) if someone has swallowed hand sanitizer. Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
Visit the Washington Poison Center website for more information about staying safe during COVID-19.

How do I use hand sanitizer effectively to kill viruses like COVID-19?

When using hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends that you apply the product to the palm of one hand and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry, which should take about 30 seconds. Studies have shown that hand sanitizers may not be as effective when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water is a better option in those cases.