There is nothing quite like feeling sand between your toes when you are barefoot on the beach. The last thing you want to do is step on something sharp. Even more horrifying is if that sharp object turns out to be a discarded needle.
It may seem far fetched, but as we have seen with Toronto’s sewage, heavy rainfall can wash unwanted items into the water and onto shore – including hypodermic needles and syringes.
In the past year, two cases were reported where needles were found on Hamilton shores.
How does this happen?
Needles can be improperly discarded on the ground. Large number of needles washing ashore on Toronto’s public beaches however, were most likely flushed down drains and washed into the lake through sewage overflows.
Heavy rainfall can overwhelm combined sewer overflows, which also carry sewage waste. This is one way unmentionables such as wipes, condoms, tampon applicators, and other non-flushables such as needles end up in the water.
Last summer, after we received pollution reports about needles at Sunnyside Beach. We reached out to two city councillors regarding this issue. Their response was that the city’s beaches are cleaned and inspected every day between the hours of 6am and 12pm for needles, syringes and any other possible debris that can be a hazard.
This is why anything that washes ashore remains on the beach until noon the next day.
In addition to these daily inspections, Toronto’s beaches dispatch beach combers - city workers who comb the sand and gather obtrusive objects such as needles and syringes.
What should you do if you see a needle at the beach in Toronto?
Most importantly, if you see a needle on the beach, do not touch it. Improper handling of sharps is extremely dangerous. If there is a lifeguard on duty, alert them of the needle. They will dispose of it safely.
Toronto Lifeguards are trained and aware of the sharp disposal protocol. Lifeguards are also equipped with sharp disposal containers in their first aid kits.
If there is no lifeguard on duty, the same rule applies: do not touch or try to remove the needle. Call 311 and report the incident. Someone from the local health unit will be dispatched to remove it.
Additionally, you can report needle pollution through Swim Guide’s website and app.
Seeing a needle at the beach can understandably scare some people. But remember, there are protocols in place to deal with this issue. And don’t be afraid to speak up. Report what you found to 311, share your concerns on social media, and contact your local city councillors.
In 2014, community member Janet Solowoniuk came across hypodermic needles at Sunnyside beach while she was with her young son. With persistence and determination, Janet stayed on top of this problem with the City. Finally last summer, the city replaced its signs at Toronto’s Sunnyside Beach to include a warning of needles.
Not an ideal reaction, but Janet’s efforts can now help protect the thousands of rec water users who visit Sunnyside every year.
Janet is an avid beachgoer and paddler. When asked why she fought so hard on this issue she said, “My hope is that people will realize that it is our duty to protect what we have, and to not just complain and walk past these things that we see need to be changed. Speak up, use your voice to bring about a positive change.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.