LONGVIEW, Wash. (KOIN) — An overabundance of used needles in manholes and pump stations led the City of Longview to send a letter to residents telling them to keep needles out of the sewer system.

“It’s very unusual to get more than one or two hypodermic needles when we clean out a manhole or a wet well,” said Public Works Director Ken Hash. “To open it up and find 35, 40, 45 hypodermic needles that gathered in what would be a two-week period was astounding.”

City officials sent the letter on January 5. Hash said it’s the first time in his memory the Longview Public Works Department has ever had to formally tell residents not to put needles into the sewers.

He said the crew that recently found dozens of needles thought it was odd but rare and they brushed it off.

“But when they came back a couple weeks later and looked again and there was another 30 to 40 hypodermic needles after it had been cleaned out, it was like, there’s something wrong here,” Hash said.

A sewer system at work (KOIN, file)
A sewer system at work (KOIN, file)

After some investigation, Hash said he found all the needles could only be coming from about 24 homes in one neighborhood. Although he did not disclose which part of Longview, he told KOIN 6 News it is an affluent neighborhood.

“I’m not trying to judge people,” he told KOIN 6 News. “I don’t know their situation, but here’s somebody who obviously doesn’t know it’s not a good idea to flush needles down the toilet or to put them into the storm sewer.”

He’s looking at this as an opportunity to inform the public and, most importantly, keep city workers safe.

“They work with human waste every day, which is annoying and somewhat dangerous. But to add needle pricks in there just makes the job extra dangerous.”

The City of Longview will likely be able to pinpoint the exact home the needles came from. Hash said the next order of business is to send a camera into the sewerline.

“The camera will be able to look at the side sewers and sometimes hypodermic needles and other items will hang up in a side sewer. And so if we can identify which side sewer it is, that will pinpoint which home it is,” he said.

“And then Longview police will go out and do a wellness check.”

In part the letter said, “Please dispose of used needles in an appropriate sharps container. Sharps containers may be obtained through your medical provider. Other disposal options can be found at safeneedledisposal.org/states/Washington