Throughout my career as a horticulturist, I have worked in more public landscapes than most. Some of these landscapes were in some of the most notorious neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area. Yes, I have found some rather strange items strewn about, including a few that necessitated telephone calls to local law enforcement. Yet, I have never once found a single used syringe.
Syringes are more commonly known as ‘needles’ by those who fear them. We are sometimes warned about them, particularly in areas where the sorts of people whom we are supposed to fear might have left them strewn about, whether or not these fearsome people actually use syringes. If found, such syringes are dangerous because they are used to inject illicit narcotics, and are consequently contaminated with the blood of those who use them. Such blood is always assumed to be infected with any variety of the communicable diseases that afflict all fearsome people, and is assumed to stay infectious for all eternity.
When I consider some of the situations that I have worked in, I believe that I am fortunate to have never found a syringe. On rare occasion, I have been presented with pouches and ‘sharps’ containment boxes containing syringes so that I can dispose of them properly. I actually expect to find a few at a site that I will be inspecting this next week or so, which will be a new experience for me. Caution is justified.
I know that syringes are out there, and that they are dangerous. So are rattlesnakes. I have seen and killed many rattlesnakes. They used to be quite common at the farm, and are still somewhat common at home. I know people who have been bitten by rattlesnakes, even though we all know to be careful out in regions where we expect them to be. Signs warning those who might not be familiar with rattlesnakes are posted in county and state parks inhabited by rattlesnakes. People are bitten by rattlesnakes much more commonly than people are accidentally pricked by used syringes. Accidental ‘needle pricks’ are actually extremely rare. For those unfortunate enough to experience such an injury, infection with any one of the communicable diseases that we all fear is very rare. Contrary to popular belief, infectious blood does not stay infections forever.
Needle Mania is really the most infectious affliction associated with used syringes. In a nearby Community, several people are so obsessed with discarded syringes that they have developed a ‘needle watch’ online, in order to monitor the number of syringes found, and the locations of where they were found. Some like to post pictures of the syringes that they find, sort of like trophies. Some people have found several syringes; which is quite commendable for those who live and work mostly inside. (I spent my entire career outside, but have never found a single syringe.) The numbers of syringes found is disturbing. So are the many pictures of syringes laying out in public spaces.
A few pictures are perplexing as well. One locally found syringe was pictured laying out neatly on a serpentinite outcropping. Another that was found in spring on the bank of the San Lorenzo River was laying on top of fallen autumn leaves of quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides. Neither serpentinite nor quaking aspen are endemic to this region.
A syringe was recently found in my neighborhood! As unfortunate and disturbing as this news was, it is not completely unexpected. Syringes can be discarded anywhere, and are probably likely to be discarded on isolated rural roads.
The neighbor who found the syringe believes that it is a problem that is serious enough to justify posting pictures of it all over the neighborhood! These pictures include a description of where the syringe was found, and instructions of what to do to curtail suspicious activity. They are everywhere! They were originally just stapled to trees, utility poles, mail boxes, fences, barns . . . and anything that a staple would stick into. Now that they have been out in the weather for a while, some are blowing about in the roadway and collecting in ditches. When they were first posted, a few were within view from every point on the road. More posters were added to replace those that blew away. These posters are now a prominent feature of our Community landscape.
I do not doubt that the discarded syringe is a problem for the Community. However, the pictures of it posted so prominently and abundantly throughout the neighborhood landscape are unsightly, trashy and unbecoming of such a safe and idyllic neighborhood.