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Syringe Tide: Wikis


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Syringe Tide refers to a period during 1987-88 in New Jersey, where significant amounts of medical waste and raw garbage washed up onto a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of Atlantic Ocean beaches in Jersey Shore communities in Monmouth and Ocean counties. This forced the closing of all the beaches in the two counties.[1] Officials scrambled to identify the source of the material, as the local economy struggled with diminished tourism.



Reports of medical waste and sewage spills drove away hundreds of thousands of vacationers, costing the $7.7-billion-a-year tourism industry on the Jersey Shore more than $1 billion in lost revenue that summer, tourism officials say. Later the losses were tallied between 15 and 40%.[2]


Officials finally traced the source of the waste to the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. After much deliberation, New York City was required to pay $1 million USD for past pollution damages as well as pay for the clean up. No reparations were paid to the business owners on the Jersey Shore for revenues lost during the months of inactivity.[3]

In response to syringe tides of 1987 and 1988, the participants in the New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program (HEP)[4] implemented an extremely successful effort, known as the Short-term Floatables Action Plan. The plan has been implemented since 1989 and is supposed to curtail floatable debris wash-ups by intercepting debris slicks within the Harbor. With this plan, the extent of beach closures declined from over 70 miles (110 km) in 1988 to fewer than 4 miles (6.4 km) in 1989, and closures have remained at a low level in later years. The Short-term Floatables Action Plan has four key elements:[5]

  • Surveillance: Environmental organizations will conduct regular air and sea patrols of the Harbor to look for and report slicks of floatable debris.
  • Regular Cleanups: The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will use cleanup vessels to collect floatable debris in the Harbor and focuses its activities on conditions when slicks are most likely to occur.
  • Non-routine Cleanups: USACE also attempts to capture additional debris slicks in the Harbor when they are detected and reported.
  • Communications Network: United States Environmental Protection Agency coordinates a reporting network as well as cleanup activities among all the program participants.

Although New Jersey has always had issues with waste wash-ups, it was a source of even greater turmoil due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

Popular culture

It is thought that the Syringe Tide was the specific incident cited in Billy Joel's 1989 hit single We Didn't Start the Fire by the line "Hypodermics on the shores". It was also the basis for Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Great Syringe Tide.

In The Simpsons episode The Old Man and the "C" Student, when punishing the students Principal Skinner sends Milhouse to the beach to "pick up all this medical waste that's washed up on the shore". Milhouse accidentally pricks himself on a syringe, and Skinner replies "Well, just keep working. You'll prick yourself with the antidote sooner or later".

See also




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