Authorities investigating source of medical waste in river

RALSTON, Okla. (AP) — Authorities were trying Tuesday to find who dumped medical waste that includes syringes and vials in the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said a “significant amount” of waste had been discovered in the past few days washed up near Ralston. The agency said it’s not known what was in the vials or syringes. Patient ID bracelets were also found.

“We don’t know yet how much,” said spokeswoman Skylar McElhaney. “Some of the waste was floating in the river, some washed up on the banks; there were even some syringes in trees.”

She said some waste had names of patients and medical facilities on them. The agency warned fishermen and others who come to that area for recreation that there’s still a risk of getting stuck with needles that haven’t been recovered. Officials say there’s no risk to drinking water.

McElhaney said a contractor will typically pick up medical waste from a facility and transport it either in or out of state to be sterilized.

“If it’s not sterilized, you run the risk the public will be exposed (to disease),” she said.

The Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating. Messages left seeking comment there were not immediately returned Tuesday. An employee in the office said the sheriff was at the scene investigating.

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