Another load of trash by a waterway is nothing shocking for those committed to keeping Chilliwack clean, but the scene Tuesday under a bridge at Eagle Landing was something else.
On a visit to the Parr Road Green Depot on Tuesday, Chris Gadsden – who has been integral in local river cleanups for years – was directed by someone to take a look under the bridge just a few metres away on Eagle Landing Parkway.
Alongside the detritus Gadsden is used to seeing were hundreds of used and unused syringes along with a smashed sharps container.
Just after noon, Gadsden posted photos of the needles on the Fraser Valley Illegal Dumping Alliance Facebook page.
The outrage was immediate.
“No words for this,” David Elderkin commented.
“Wow!!! Just disgraceful!!! Any way to find these people??” Laurea Palmantier asked.
Gadsden immediately contacted Griffin Security who has contracts to clean up sharps around the city, but he then also contacted someone from a local harm reduction team who said they would take care of the needles.
Thank you. We've forwarded it to our public health team to follow-up.
— Fraser Health (@Fraserhealth) February 6, 2018
City councillor Jason Lum weighed in expressing extreme frustration over the lack of information from Fraser Health about the numbers of needles they are handing out.
Back on Nov. 7, 2017 at a public council meeting, Coun. Lum specifically asked Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank for data on harm reduction and how many needles were going out, coming in and from where.
Marchbank said the information was generally available and “we can provide it.”
“We recover more needles than we distribute, typically, in almost all of our communities,” Marchbank said.
That was three months ago and Wednesday Lum said that is the message he keeps hearing, but he still had not received the data he asked for on needles going in and out.
Lum did say that the subject is a sensitive one with people quick to over-react by pointing blame for dumped needles. But as far as the harm reductions measures used by Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS), he, and most others, have only positive things to say.
“PCRS is doing a very good job in a very tough situation and they should be commended for the work they do,” Lum said, adding that the public sharing of photos of dumped needles can be a flashpoint for people, particularly on social media.
“I would hate for people to start a backlash against social service providers like PCRS.”
What Lum does want to see is Fraser Health step up and provide information to city hall about needle distribution.
“I’m not trying to pick a fight here but I also don’t want to overlook something that is clearly an issue,” he said.
In response to questions about harm reduction programs in Chilliwack, a Fraser Health spokesperson confirmed that needles are supplied, and can be disposed of, via the Chilliwack Public Health Unit, Pacific Community Resources Society, and Riverstone Home/Mobile Detox Program.
A spokesperson said other healthcare providers may also offer harm reduction supplies to patients as part of confidential clinical practice.
“To support the safe disposal of used injecting equipment, we have installed two large disposal units outside Chilliwack General Hospital and the Chilliwack Public Health Unit that are accessible 24 hours a day,” she said, adding that disposal containers have been provided to the city to put in various locations, and Fraser Health has contacted Griffin Security to conduct sweeps of hot spots three hours a day, seven days a week.
“In addition, the Pacific Community Resources Society, a contracted service provider, also conducts daily sweeps in the community and provides safe disposal education and resources to people who use substances.”