LOWELL, Mass. — Thousands of dirty needles have been found scattered along the Merrimack River, and they all came from one local city.
A clean-up crew in Lowell is doing everything in their power, including putting themselves at risk to pick up every dirty syringe.
Boston 25 News followed members of the Clean River Project into the woods in Lowell beside the VFW as they picked up dirty needles.
"These people sleep with these needles," said Rocky Morrison. "They sleep with them."
Morrison spent the last several months cleaning up homeless camps throughout the Merrimack Valley.
"As you can see it’s camp site after camp site after camp site," said Morrison. "We can walk through if you like - so you can see you were just stepping on one.”
Morrison's non-profit, the Clean River Project, brings in heavy equipment and leaf blowers to pick up all the trash and needles.
Throughout the summer, Morrison and his crew filled a plastic bin with over 2,200 dirty needles. He says it was thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust that they were able to clean up and collect all these needles from homeless camps throughout Lowell.
According to Morrison, those needles came from 13 different homeless camps, but he says there's still 15 more they need to get to.
"All these camps along the river, they’re actually washing down the hills into the waterways," said Morrison. "Those needles float and we see that all up and down the river."
The opioid crisis has led to an outbreak of HIV, where, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health, 144 new cases of HIV have been reported in the Merrimack Valley since the start of 2015.
"Just walking around you could get stuck," said Donald Chenard.
Chenard says he knows how dangerous this line of work can be.
“I mean, if I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?" said Chenard. "We try to get volunteers to do it out here but they’re pretty worried about coming out here and doing it. I mean, you get stuck and get AIDS or hepatitis, you don’t know what’s in these needles."
In 2015, Morrison was recognized for his work with the "Cox Conserves Heroes" award by Boston 25's parent company.
As for the needles collected, Morrison says they'll be taken to a company in Haverhill and incinerated.
Cox Media Group