Dentist charged in ocean dumping

Needles, swabs shut N.J. beaches

Dr. Thomas McFarland allegedly threw dental waste materials from a motorboat. Dr. Thomas McFarland allegedly threw dental waste materials from a motorboat. (associated press)
By Geoff Mulvihill
Associated Press / September 6, 2008
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CAPE MAY, N.J. - A Pennsylvania dentist has been charged with the Jersey Shore's most serious beach-dumping case in two decades, in which medical waste sullied the coast and prompted beach closures at the height of vacation season.

Authorities said yesterday that Dr. Thomas McFarland took his motorboat to Townsend Inlet near Avalon on Aug. 22 and dumped a bag with about 300 dental-type needles, along with 180 cotton swabs and other materials from his Wynnewood, Pa., medical office.

McFarland, 59, is charged with unlawfully discharging a pollutant and unlawful disposal of regulated medical waste. Each charge carries a maximum prison term of five years. Fines could total $125,000 if he is convicted on both counts.

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said McFarland's lawyer was notified of the complaint yesterday. Milgram said authorities know where McFarland is, but she would not disclose his location.

Phone messages left at McFarland's Pennsylvania and Jersey Shore homes were not returned yesterday. An assistant to his lawyer, Joseph Rodgers, said Rodgers would not discuss the case. A man on the property yesterday at McFarland's New Jersey house declined to answer questions.

Milgram would not say whether McFarland, who turned himself in to Avalon police Tuesday, explained why he dumped the materials.

Needles and other medical materials began washing up Aug. 22 on the northernmost beaches of Avalon. The upscale resort town, which is about 25 miles south of Atlantic City, was recently named by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one of the nation's 10 best places to live, work, and play.

The debris led to beach closings in Avalon throughout the week before the Labor Day. In all, more than 200 syringes were picked up.

The shore dumping was the most serious since the late 1980s, when thousands of beach days were lost because of waste washing ashore.

That problem prompted a ban on trash dumping off the New Jersey coast. New Jersey has 127 miles of bathing beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, which represent a large part of its $35 billion tourism industry.

The state's environmental crimes unit investigated the latest case and said it would be able to use serial numbers on the needles to trace them back to their source. A $10,000 reward was offered.

Milgram said investigators had narrowed the source of the needles to a handful of offices, including McFarland's, before he turned himself in.

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