A Bay Area judge has ordered Walgreens to pay more than $16 million as part of a settlement of civil environmental prosecution, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced Thursday.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill ordered the Illinois-based Walgreen Co. to pay $16.57 million in the settlement, the culmination of a civil enforcement lawsuit filed in Alameda County in June 2012 and led by the District Attorneys of Alameda, San Joaquin, Solano, Monterey, Riverside, and Yolo, and the City Attorney of Los Angeles.
Under the settlement, Walgreen Co. will pay $40,000 in civil penalties to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office and $18,000 to the San Mateo County Environmental Health Division.
The judgment that alleged more than 600 Walgreens stores throughout the state "unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a six and one half year period, including pesticides, bleach, paint, aerosols, automotive products and solvents, pharmaceutical and bio hazardous wastes and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials," Wagstaffe said.
The settlement also resolves allegations that Walgreens unlawfully disposed of customer records containing confidential medical information without preserving the confidentiality of the information therein.
The case originated from an investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and local environmental health agencies during the fall of 2009, according to Wagstaffe.
During the summer and fall of 2011, district attorney investigators and environmental regulators statewide conducted a series of waste inspections of dumpsters belonging to Walgreens’ stores.
The inspections revealed that Walgreens was routinely and systematically sending hazardous wastes to local landfills, and was failing to take measures to protect the privacy of their pharmacy customer’s confidential medical information. During the statewide inspections, 34 out of 37 Walgreens stores werefound to be in violation of state law, Wagstaffe said.
Under the final judgment, Walgreen Co. must pay $16.57 million in civil penalties and costs.
It also funds supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California. The retailer will be boundunder the terms of a permanent injunction prohibiting similar future alleged violations of law.
As a result of the prosecution, California Walgreens stores have adopted new policies and procedures designed to eliminate the disposal of hazardous waste productsand confidential customer information records into store dumpsters.
Stores are now required to retain their hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers so as to minimize the risk of exposure to employees and customers and to ensure that incompatible wastes do not combine to cause dangerous chemical reactions.
Hazardous waste produced by California Walgreens’ stores through damage, spills and returns is now being collected by state-registered haulers, taken to proper disposal facilities and properly documented and accounted for.
The settlement also requires Walgreens to take proper steps to preserve the confidentiality of their pharmacy customers’ medical information.
There are 19 Walgreens stores located in San Mateo County.
Walgreens issued the following statement in response to the settlement:
“Since 2007, we have invested millions of dollars to develop and implement a comprehensive waste management program at all of our California stores to properly handle and dispose of discarded, damaged or expired consumer products that are covered by hazardous waste regulations in California.
“We also have worked with government officials throughout the state to initiate numerous significant enhancements such as automated waste classification and improved employee training. All hazardous materials are shipped by licensed environmental haulers to a hazardous waste disposal facility, where they are incinerated. We are continuing to strengthen our programs to ensure that these procedures are properly followed.
“We did not admit to any wrongdoing, but like a number of other major retailers who faced similar questions in California, we agreed to settle this case to avoid the time and expense of protracted litigation. We are fully committed to continuing to improve our waste disposal practices.”