La Crosse Fire Dept. makes disturbing discovery of needles under snow


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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- We're all excited to see the snow finally melting, but now people in once area are making a disturbing discovery as the grass reappears.

The melting this spring is revealing a new problem in La Crosse.

La Crosse firefighter Jim Hillcoat said more and more people are calling for help after seeing used hypodermic needles.

"They can pose a risk obviously since they're a sharp object, but more importantly because of the risk of communicable diseases," said Hillcoat.

Hillcoat said the fire department has been finding needles all over the city along curbs, sidewalks, and in streets.

However, most of them have been found in the downtown area, on the lower north side and just south of downtown.

The La Crosse Fire Department keeps a Sharps container inside each of its fire trucks.

Any hypodermic needles the department finds are stored in them, and once they're filled, they're taken to a disposal site.

Hillcoat said the chances of contracting HIV or hepatitis from a needle that's been outside all winter is relatively low, but the fire department isn't taking any chances.

"You need to treat every needle and syringe that you find like it was put there that day," said Hillcoat.

The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which has offices in La Crosse and Eau Claire, said it offers a needle exchange program.

Director of prevention services Scott Stokes said participants can to come to its offices and exchange dirty syringes for clean ones.

He said there's a reason why needles aren't disposed of properly.

"They are fearful of arrest. If they may have recently injected they might get a little bit paranoid about the police finding them, and they don't want to be caught with drug paraphernalia," said Stokes.

Stokes said the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin talks with participants about safely discarding needles, and has spent thousand of dollars a year on medical waste management.

If you see a hypodermic needle, contact the La Crosse County non-emergency line at 608-785-5962 or the La Crosse Fire Department at 608-780-7260

The fire department said needles won't get picked up immediately if it's responding to an emergency.


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