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Hazardous Materials specialists double bag a box of more than 50 used hypodermic needles that were spilled on Santa Rita Road near Appian Way in El Sobrante, Calif. early in the morning on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Contra Costa Times

EL SOBRANTE -- Cleaning up a pile of hypodermic needles was not the enormous task it appeared it would be when the first reports of the needle spill started coming on Tuesday morning.

A specialist for Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Team said his crews cleaned up about 200 needles off Santa Rita Road near Appian Way in little more than an hour after California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Bartlett said they appeared to fall from a vehicle around 5:05 a.m.

Initial reports said about 2,000 needles were on the roadway, and that number later was reduced to 1,000. Bartlett said the early numbers were based on estimates given by witnesses but that responding crews gave a more accurate estimate after arriving.

Both lanes of Santa Rita Road were closed during the cleanup, causing traffic to back up on nearby San Pablo Dam Road, an artery that runs from Orinda to the western part of Contra Costa County. One lane opened around 7:50 a.m., and the road was moving in both directions at 8:34 a.m., Bartlett said.

The needles appeared to fall from a vehicle, likely a truck, Bartlett said. Hazardous Materials specialist Adam Springer said medications also were found in the pile, and that the medications and needles had been a container that broke. The container had a phone number on it, Bartlett said.

"It was a super-quick cleanup," Springer said. "We picked up the needles, then used a bleach solution on the road to kill anything left behind."

Contra Costa Fire Protection District crews also helped with the cleanup. Liquid from the spill also was removed.

Natalie Neysa Alund and Laura Oda contributed to this report. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.