BUFORD, Ga. — Viewer Shawn Tupper reached out to 11Alive Tuesday saying he came across dozens of needles in an open bin inside the men's restroom in the food court of the Mall of Georgia.
He says the needles were so accessible, that even a child could reach them.
"I went and actually showed my wife and my best friend," he recalled. "I said, 'You won't believe this. This is what was in the bathroom in the men's restroom over here in the food court.' So, I showed them that picture. My wife having worked in the medical side before, we know that there's usually appropriate containers for things to be stored."
Tupper, who was in Georgia on a trip from Wisconsin, took the photo below. You can see needles under a "needle disposal" sticker.
“There were no markings on it showing that these are biohazards within that container. They just might be curious and just reach up over top and stick their hand in it. It can easily fit my adult hands inside of that container," he said.
Tupper says the box was a few feet above the ground, unlocked, and very accessible, even for a child.
“We were all in complete shock that it was that easily accessible," he said.
"My nine-year-old who'd went in there could have reached in easily and picked up a whole handful, or even a five-year-old could have reached the height where it was at to access these needles that were had been used."
11Alive reached out to the Simon Property Group, which owns the Mall of Georgia. A representative said the bin was broken and says it has since been fixed. We requested photo evidence and are still waiting for it.
The representative did not know how it broke, or how long it has been broken for but says she believes it’s for people who may have medical conditions, like diabetes.
“I can make a lot of what-ifs about what if it was insulin, or other types of illicit drugs that could have been used there, or what if somebody was to grab one and poke somebody else with it?" Tupper added.
The father of four used this moment as a lesson for his children.
“I talked to my son after. I said, 'That's why when you go to the doctor, and you get one shot, they don't reuse the needle. They get used and they get put in an appropriate container that's even locked for them and it has a handle that they can carry it around safely to be disposed of properly.'"
Tupper says this container had none of that.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says improper disposal of needles – including insulin needles – can be especially dangerous for maintenance workers, waste handlers, and janitors. It adds it can put people at risk for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says sharps should be placed in puncture-resistant containers, identified as “biohazard”.
“It’s not just about my kids. It's about their employees," Tupper added. "It's about taking that responsibility as an organization to ensure that we're all doing everything in a safe and effective manner."
11Alive reached out to the Gwinnett, Newton & Rockdale County Health Department, which says that although waste disposal regulation falls outside of public health, it will be following up and providing more guidance to mall management.
A spokesperson tells us the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division is in charge of handling medical waste.
A spokesperson with the county health department adds that if someone is stuck by another person's used needle or sharps– wash the exposed area right away and seek immediate medical attention.
11Alive will update this story as we hear more from the Simon Property Group and the Mall of Georgia.