Raley’s to pay $1.6 million to settle waste disposal suit

Published: Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Raley’s has agreed to pay nearly $1.6 million in civil penalties, costs and funding for environmental projects as part of a settlement related to allegations of improperly disposing hazardous waste.

The judgment is the culmination of a civil enforcement lawsuit filed in San Joaquin County to stop the West Sacramento-based supermarket chain from unlawfully transporting and disposing of retail hazardous waste, according to a press release from at least two of the 25 district attorneys who announced the suit.

The settlement was approved by San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt.

In addition to devoting resources to complying with California environmental law, Raley’s has agreed to purchase five mobile freshwater purification systems to provide safe drinking water to local communities during emergencies. The mobile purification systems will be located in Placer, El Dorado, Sonoma, Sacramento and Contra Costa counties, but will be available to communities statewide during emergencies.

Rui Cunha, Placer County assistant director of emergency services, said the water purification trailers “could make a difference for areas hardest hit by temporary water shortages.”

In a statement Monday, Raley’s said: “Upon learning of this inquiry by the district attorneys, we began an immediate investigation and worked with the district attorneys’ offices to find a resolution agreeable to both sides.”

While noting that the settlement “does not include any admission of fault or finding of liability,” Raley’s said the allegations were not related to the safety of food or other store products. It said the grocery chain “chose to devote resources to further improving its practices, rather than undertaking the cost and expense that would be involved with litigation.”

The lawsuit claimed that more than 130 Raley’s stores improperly stored, handled and disposed of hazardous and pharmaceutical wastes – and that contaminated materials were being taken to facilities not equipped to handle that type of waste.

In his announcement of the settlement, Placer County District Attorney R. Scott Owens said Raley’s has “modified existing policies” and will stop disposal of retail hazardous wastes and pharmaceutical waste in landfills not equipped to handle them. The stores’ hazardous waste is now being collected by state-registered haulers, taken to proper disposal facilities and properly documented, according to the Placer County press release.

Raley’s also agreed to comply with California regulations for training employees in the handling of hazardous waste; maintaining records on waste materials; and conducting regular inspections of hazardous waste storage areas.

The lawsuit also alleged that Raley’s did not adequately protect the confidentiality of pharmacy customers’ information. The settlement documents contain a clause that says Raley’s “will take all reasonable steps” to have confidential medical information destroyed.

The Placer County release noted that Raley’s “cooperated with the prosecution team throughout the investigation.”

Among the counties to receive money from civil penalties are Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties.

The Raley’s action is the latest in a string of similar settlements agreed to by retailers doing business in California.

Two years ago, Walgreens agreed to pay more than $16.5 million to settle a lawsuit over disposal of hazardous waste by more than 600 stores in California. In September last year, Rite Aid agreed to pay $12 million to settle allegations that it dumped hazardous materials from its shelves into landfills.

In April, Lowe’s settled a similar suit for $18.1 million. And Albertsons agreed in June to pay more than $3 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of illegal handling of hazardous waste at nearly 200 California stores.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

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