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Needle Beach: City can’t help man who found pile of syringes in Plumb Beach surf

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It’s a sore point.

The city isn’t helping a Gerritsen Beach man who discovered a massive cache of hypodermic needles and other potentially hazardous medical supplies scattered across the northern bank of Plumb Island on Nov. 6. He gathered what he could in a bucket, but said the city better act fast to claim what’s left before someone gets hurt. He’s tried calling 311 to get help, but the service’s operators aren’t the sharpest needles, he said.

“I took [the bucket] home and called 311, and they bounced me around for the better part of an hour,” said Ray Schaffer, 73, who made the unpleasant discovery. “The people are well-meaning, but they don’t know what to do.”

Schaffer has made a habit of moseying out from his Franklin Court home, heading down to the nearby docks on Shell Bank Creek, and rowing the short distance to Plumb Island for 60 years.

But on one such sojourn, he spotted the last thing you’d care to see on a sandy shoreline, he said.

“Little by little, I saw more,” said Schaffer of the hypodermics. “I picked up a bucket, started picking them up, and the next thing I knew, I had a goodly amount.”

The Gerritsen man found dozens, if not hundreds, of needles — many capped with blue and yellow covers, along with test tubes, he said.

That stretch of shoreline is just north of the Belt Parkway, and Schaffer thinks someone might have pulled their car to the curb and dumped the unwanted medical supplies there. The island has long been a dumping ground — even for unwanted animals.

Or else the tide brought them in, he said.

Either way, without any help from 311, he’s worried the city will miss its chance to scoop up the dangerous syringes before the tide carries them to parts unknown.

“Another tide, if the wind is right, they’ll be floating out,” Schaffer said.

The city refuted Schaffer’s claim operators bounced him around for an hour and said that Schaffer contacted 311 twice — one call lasted less than seven minutes, and a second call lasted just over 13 minutes, according to a 311 spokeswoman.

City officials said the call was confusing but that 311 reps did exactly what they were supposed to do.

It isn’t the first time medical waste has washed up on the shores of New York City. In the late 1980s, the so-called “syringe tide” washed needles up on beaches across the city, Long Island, and the Jersey Shore.

The dangerous filth made national headlines then and was made even more famous when it was referenced in the final verse of Billy Joel’s seminal Baby Boomer rap masterpiece “We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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