The Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee Chairperson William R. Spencer, M.D. and Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron joined an impromptu coalition of environmentalists, health care professionals, business owners and a Nassau County Legislator to announce a new law to curb the improper disposal of COVID-19 masks and gloves (PPE). Residents across Long Island are utilizing protective equipment when in public areas where they cannot safely social distance. With a tremendous uptick of PPE littering our streets,parking lots, and even at beaches- officials are now concerned that these used PPE could potentially pose a health and safety risk to residents. The bill, unanimously approved, is one of the first laws of its kind in the State of New York.
At the Legislature’s June 9th General Meeting, all 18 legislators voted to approve a local law prohibiting the improper disposal of single or multi-use personal protective equipment (PPE) in any public location-other than a waste receptacle during a disaster or state of emergency. Violations, enforced by the Suffolk County Police Department, would incur a fine of $250 for their first offense, although warnings may also be issued for first-time violators.
“Our law imposes a fine, however our goal is not to have residents pay the fine- but to incentivize our public to be responsible. Once finished using disposable PPE, folks just need to find the nearest receptacle and throw it out- it’s really that simple. As a county we have also been proactive in providing free reusable cloth masks to seniors that can be washed and used multiple times. The county is here to support the public in staying safe- however, those discarding PPE with no regard for the environment or the danger it poses will risk the consequences,” stated Legislator William R. Spencer.
“Wearing gloves and a face cover can help prevent the wearer from making others ill. It is clearly the responsible thing to do during this public health emergency, however proper disposal of these items is also imperative to prevent the spread of illness and keep everyone safe. Our department has obtained overwhelming voluntary compliance from the public and enforcement has only been employed when appropriate. Please be considerate of others and properly dispose of all used PPE,” stated Stuart K. Cameron, Chief of Department.
Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco stated, “I thank Legislator Spencer for his leadership on this timely issue, which affects both public health and the environment. Wearing masks and gloves has been a reliable way to protect oneself when out in public, but we have to remember that also means these items can be contaminated with the coronavirus. It is imperative that used PPE be disposed of properly to protect the health and safety of all workers and residents.”
“I am happy to work side by side with Legislator Spencer to not only protect the health and safety of our constituents during this crisis, but protect our environment as well” said Legislator Piccirillo, “I congratulate Legislator Spencer and the Suffolk County Legislature on taking concrete action, in a bi-partisan fashion, to protect public health, front line workers, and the environment. My message to Nassau County is this: we cannot afford to wait. I hope our county follows the lead of Suffolk and passes this bill into law. We need a unified commitment to eradicate PPE litter from Great Neck to the Hamptons,” stated Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan.
“As healthcare professionals we are taught to properly remove and safely dispose of masks and gloves. The public needs to understand that these are hazardous materials potentially contaminated with coronavirus. Not only do these masks and gloves pose an environmental threat when they end up in our waterways, but they pose health risks to those tasked with cleaning the parking lots, sidewalks and other areas people toss them away. Young children who might be attracted to the bright blue color of some of these gloves could inadvertently pick them up. Bottom line, this type of littering is not only inconsiderate and a threat to that environment but also puts people’s health at risk,” stated Dr. Eve Krief, Pediatrician and Chair of NYSW Chapter 2 American of Pediatrics.
“ As the proprietor of several grocery stores in Suffolk County, it saddened me to see that during a national pandemic, with New York having the highest number of COVID-19 cases, there was such a lack of respect for others by those who were disposing of their masks and gloves in shopping carts and parking lots,” stated IGA owner, Charlie Reichert. “Hopefully the imposition of a fine will make the violators do the right thing by throwing those items in the trash.”
“We cannot allow the current public health crisis to cause a future plastic pollution crisis. In the midst of this pandemic, we cannot abandon common sense. It is just irresponsible of people to throw used gloves and facemasks on the street and in parking lots, instead of into the trash. This forces grocery store and municipal employees and clean up this potentially contaminated PPE litter. Suffolk County residents have been very proactive about joining the fight against plastic pollution only to take a leap backwards by littering with used PPE. We applaud Legislator Spencer and the entire Suffolk County Legislature for taking action to help prevent PPE littering,” said Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
“Wearing masks and gloves is now just a routine aspect of our daily lives and the expectation of being a responsible member of the community is to also ensure that those PPEs are then disposed of properly. Unfortunately, all too often, this does not happen. As President of a labor union which represents essential workers (including those employed at grocery stores on Long Island), PPE that has been littered – regardless of whether it’s in a supermarket parking lot or on the side of the road, not only takes a toll on the environment but also puts workers at risk who are tasked with cleaning it up. I applaud Legislator Spencer and our leaders in Suffolk County for taking a necessary step in holding everyone accountable to promote the health of our neighbors and all of our county’s workers,” John R. Durso, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW.
The legislation, expected to be signed into law by County Executive Steve Bellone this week, will take effect once submitted and filed with the Secretary of the State.