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Pennsylvania Dentist Pleads Guilty to Dumping Needles March 15, 2010

Posted by jefhenninger in News.
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 Pennsylvania dentist Thomas W. McFarland Jr. pleaded guilty today to dumping the needles and other medical-type waste that washed up in Avalon during the last week of August 2008, causing the borough to close its beaches five times.

McFarland, 61, of Wynnewood, Pa., pleaded guilty to fourth-degree unlawful discharge of water pollutants before Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Batten in Cape May County. McFarland pleaded guilty to an amended count of a state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice on Nov. 18, 2008.

Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that McFarland be sentenced to a one-year term of probation. As a condition of probation, McFarland must pay $100,000 to the Borough of Avalon as restitution for the expenses it incurred at the time of the wash up, with any remaining funds to go toward environmental projects in Avalon.

McFarland, who owns a house in the Avalon Manor section of Middle Township, admitted that he took his small motor boat into Townsend Inlet at the north end of Avalon on Aug. 22, 2008 and dumped a bag of waste from his dental practice in Wynnewood, Pa.

Beginning the next day, dental waste was found washed up along a stretch of beach at the north end of Avalon between 9th Street and 24th Street. The waste included approximately 260 “Accuject” dental-type needles, 180 cotton swabs, a number of blue and white plastic capsules used to hold dental filling material, and other items. Officials in Avalon alerted the state Department of Environmental Protection, which notified the Division of Criminal Justice.

The Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Section immediately commenced an intensive investigation with the Avalon Police Department and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.

Investigators from those agencies, led by the DCJ Environmental Crimes Section, worked quickly to trace the source of the dental waste, and the Attorney General’s Office offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Certain information obtained in the first days of the investigation pointed to McFarland’s practice.

Avalon officials recovered a wrapped dental drill bit bearing a lot number. Detectives from the Environmental Crimes Section contacted the manufacturer and learned McFarland’s practice was one of a small number of practices in the Mid-Atlantic States that bought drill bits from the lot in question. Detectives also determined that he received promotional products from Accuject at a time when they were distributing needles bearing the lot numbers that washed up in Avalon.

On Sept. 2, 2008, McFarland went to the Avalon Police Department and admitted dumping the dental waste. After searching his beach house, Boston Whaler boat and SUV in New Jersey, investigators obtained a search warrant for his dental office in Pennsylvania and executed it on Sept. 4. They discovered evidence corroborating McFarland’s statement that the waste came from his practice, including drill bits and Accuject needles bearing the same lot numbers as those found in Avalon. McFarland was charged by warrant complaint at that time and released without bail. The State of Pennsylvania subsequently suspended his dental license.

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