It costs anywhere from $75 to $150 for a dentist to get rid of medical waste each month.

Dr. Thomas W. McFarland's bill for dumping medical waste at the Shore is still being tallied, but it's definitely going to hurt.

New Jersey officials say McFarland, 59, took his Boston Whaler fishing boat into Townsends Inlet, near Avalon, on the night of Aug. 22 and dumped about 300 dental needles, along with 180 cotton swabs and other waste from the Wynnewood home that houses his practice.

"This was an isolated incident of intentional dumping," New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said yesterday during a news conference.

McFarland, who owns a vacation home on the water in the Avalon Manor section of Middle Township, Cape May County, has been charged with unlawful discharge of a pollutant and unlawful disposal of regulated medical waste. He could face at least $125,000 in fines and five years in jail.

Also, law-enforcement officials may seek restitution to cover the cost of the investigation.

McFarland's medical waste first began washing up on Avalon's beaches on Aug. 23, and beaches were forced to close five times throughout the next week.

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

Hundreds of other pieces of medical waste have washed ashore in communities along the coast, but Milgram said they were not connected to McFarland.

Milgram said heightened awareness, hurricanes, copycats, or even careless intravenous drug users could be responsible for other reports of debris.

McFarland was already on a short list of possible suspects, Milgram said, because authorities traced a small piece of debris to its supplier, which led them to focus on a few dental practices.

Media coverage of the investigation, along with a $10,000 reward for information leading to the dumper's arrest, may have prompted McFarland to turn himself into Avalon police Tuesday and admit the dumping, Milgram said.

McFarland also told police he was suicidal, said Lower Merion Police Superintendent Joseph J. Daly, whose department assisted in a search of McFarland's Wynnewood home.

Milgram wouldn't discuss McFarland's motivations for dumping the waste or confirm whether he was being treated at a mental-health facility in South Jersey.

The complaint was served yesterday to McFarland's attorney, Joseph Rodgers, who declined to comment.

Daly said McFarland slipped into a depression shortly after his wife, Joanne, was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer.

"She is his childhood sweetheart. It's just them. There's no children," Daly said.

"Everybody who knows him says he's been depressed since she was diagnosed. If his mind's made that left turn, it's a real shame."

A neighbor of McFarland's in Avalon Manor said the dentist and his wife spearheaded an effort to secede their small community from Middle Township.

A legal battle ensued, and the McFarlands and approximately 250 other residents eventually lost in New Jersey's Supreme Court.

The loss left McFarland "bitter," a neighbor said Thursday.

McFarland could not be reached for comment yesterday. He is the first individual to be charged with dumping medical waste in the state in 20 years, Milgram said. *