Medical Debris on Beach Is Traced to Hospital

Times Staff Writer

San Diego County health officials said Monday that some of the medical wastes that washed up on a La Jolla beach this weekend have been tentatively traced to an undisclosed North County hospital.

Gary Stephany, director of the environmental division of the county’s Department of Health Services, said a Channel 39 reporter was the one to identify the hospital when he tracked down a former patient from an identification bracelet that was among the medical debris that washed up near Black’s Beach on Saturday.

The patient, Antonio Cunningham, declined comment Monday afternoon. When informed that his name was on the washed-up identification tag, he said: “Is that why my name is being dragged through the mud?”

The Channel 39 report Monday evening said Cunningham was treated at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside earlier this month.


“It appears that we have tentatively identified the hospital that some of it came from, but until we check our facts, we aren’t going to give that name out,” Stephany said. He adding that county health officials had contacted the hospital and the contractor it hires to dispose of medical and infectious wastes.

Along with the identification bracelet, city lifeguards found a vial of blood, a bottle of serum, a syringe and several plastic gloves. It had been washed up with the kelp on Black’s Beach during low tide Saturday. The wristband was the only item among the medical waste that has been traced to the hospital so far, Stephany said.

In a separate incident Sunday, lifeguards found a bottle of yellow serum on the beach near the children’s pool at 850 Coast Blvd. in La Jolla, lifeguard Tim Cicchetto said.

Cicchetto said the most unusual item among medical waste was the vial of blood.


“There are occasions that we get a syringe or two, maybe a hypodermic needle for insulin,” he said. “But this is the first time we’ve ever had blood wash up that I can recall.”

Stephany said the discovery of medical wastes this weekend posed no hazard to public health.

“The blood vial was still intact and there was no sharp needle sticking out, so there was no reason to run some tests on it,” he said. “The only thing we can do is find out what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

Stephany said that any hospital or clinic that generates more than 100 kilograms of medical or infectious wastes a year must undergo an inspection before securing a hazardous waste permit from the county. The wastes must either be sanitized through high-pressure steam, incinerated or sent to a special landfill, say hospital officials; it is illegal to dump them into the ocean.

3rd Incident in 6 Months

This weekend’s incident is the third time in six months that the health department has investigated reports of medical wastes washed up on San Diego beaches, Stephany said. On one occasion several months ago, he said, the waste was found still inside an orange bag used to denote potentially infectious or hazardous material.

Bags of medical waste washed up on East Coast beaches this summer triggered panic over the health hazards. San Diego’s problems aren’t nearly as severe, Stephany said.

“If we start having large bags of this washed up, then the risk becomes more prevalent like it was in New Jersey,” he said. “All we can do is have the lifeguards pick them up and generally pick them up properly.”


Although medical wastes can be harmful, Stephany said he is more worried about drug paraphernalia left on beaches from nighttime parties.

“Actually, from a health standpoint, risk standpoint, I would be more worried about someone accidentally being stuck by a needle left over from the drug parties.” Stephany said he has seen discarded syringes while walking on Mission Beach.