Medical Biohazard Containers Found Trashed In Arkansas River Near Ralston

Monday, March 16th 2015, 1:38 pm
By: Tess Maune

A disturbing discovery of syringes, needles and vials of blood have been found washing to shore along the Arkansas River.

The medical waste has been found scattered on various banks between Ralston and Cleveland, and the biohazardous material may have come from a Tulsa hospital.

At least 15 biohazardous sharps containers have been found in the river - some of them fully intact - but many others have busted, leaving the contaminated material with only one place to go, down river.

Some, like Taylor Smyth, call the Arkansas River their sanctuary, their place to get away or their place to play.

“This is our playground, we're out here constantly,” he said.

Smyth spends every free chance he gets out on the water, many times with two young daughters in tow; but over the weekend he made one of the most disturbing discoveries of his life.

“There are not words,” he said. “I was sick to my stomach wondering how many were going down the river, where they were at.”

In all, Smyth found five biohazardous containers carrying needles, syringes and vials of blood. There were also bottles of medication - including a type of morphine - and many of the supplies list patients' names, dates and the hospital.

"St. John," Smyth read. "March 3, 2015."

Smyth pulled the containers from a bank between the Belford Bridge and Ralston.

Canoeing enthusiast Aaron Lindstrom found a container dangling from a piece driftwood close to the same spot, all of the contents washed away.

“When I came up on it there was a little tube hanging off it,” Lindstrom said. “My first thought was, where'd it come from?”

Pawnee County Sheriff Mike Waters said he thinks someone threw the biohazardous containers off a bridge just west of Ralston. He said containers and the materials inside have been found as far down river as Cleveland.

“I think they took the easy way out and put the citizens of Pawnee County at risk by doing that,” he said.

Waters said the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has joined in on the investigation.

The DEQ said it doesn't believe the medical waste has impacted fish or drinking water.

St. John, which has its name on many of the medical supplies, said in a statement:

"St. John is cooperating with law enforcement regarding an ongoing criminal investigation and we are not able to comment further on this matter. St. John is actively evaluating relevant security breach and safety issues to ensure that a safe environment is maintained for all.”

As for the sheriff, his focus is finding the person responsible.

Tess: What would you say to the person or persons who did this?
Waters: Look out, here we come, cause we're gonna find ya.

Smyth said, “I hope they can punish you to the fullest extent and it probably won't be enough. You deserve way more than that.”

He said his daughters and every other river goer deserves better.

"It's disgusting. Pretty much our worst nightmare for us, cause it takes away our recreation," Smyth said. "From [the Belford Bridge] down, I don't think we'll ever come and swim."

The sheriff isn't telling folks to stay off the river, but he, along with the DEQ, is asking everyone to be extra cautious.

If you plan on walking in the sand don't go barefoot and if you see a container or medical waste, it should be reported to the Sheriff's office.

St. John wouldn't comment when asked if the hospital is in charge of disposing of dirty supplies or if it contracts out with a company that specializes in disposing of medical waste.