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Pennsylvania dentist charged with dumping waste on Jersey Shore

Saturday, September 6, 2008

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. -- A Pennsylvania dentist has been charged with dumping medical waste that sullied the New Jersey coast in a popular area and forced beach closures at the height of vacation season.

Authorities said Friday that Thomas McFarland took his motorboat to Townsend Inlet near Avalon on Aug. 22 and dumped a bag full of some 300 dental-type needles, along with 180 cotton swabs and other materials from his Wynnewood, Pa., medical office. According to police affidavits, McFarland admitted tossing the material from his boat.

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 a complaint was served on his lawyer Friday. Milgram said authorities know where McFarland is, but would not disclose his location.

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

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 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 forced beach closings in Avalon throughout the week leading up to Labor Day weekend. In all, more than 200 syringes were picked up.

"Many people at the Jersey Shore could not enjoy one of the state's most precious natural resources, the ocean," Milgram said.

The washup was the most serious since the late 1980s, when thousands of beach-going 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 comprise a large part of its $35 billion tourism industry.

The state's environmental crimes unit dug into this case and publicized that it would be able to use serial numbers on the needles to trace them back to their source. A $10,000 reward was also offered.

Milgram said investigators had narrowed down the source of the needles to a handful of offices, including McFarland's, before he showed up at the Avalon police station on Tuesday and confessed.

McFarland has been licensed as a dentist in Pennsylvania since 1977 and was in good standing.

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