A judge ordered Safeway to pay nearly $10 million to 41 California counties and cities for illegally disposing of household chemicals and medicines from its stores and distribution centers over a seven-year span.
The $9.87 million settlement, approved Friday in Alameda Superior Court and announced Monday, stems from allegations that more than 500 California stores and distribution centers in the Pleasanton-based supermarket chain improperly handled and disposed of hazardous and pharmaceutical waste that came from spills and customer returns.
Yolo, Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado counties each received a portion of the settlement.
Under the judgment, Safeway must pay $6.72 million in civil penalties and $3.15 million for environmental projects and investigative costs. Safeway will also continue its store-level environmental compliance program, conduct annual dumpster audits and work with state and federal agencies to promote regulatory reform regarding disposal of medicines, according to the order.
The award includes $375,000 for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, about $300,000 of which will fund a project to test various forms of retail waste, including health care products. Tens of thousands more dollars will go to Sacramento and Placer counties toward environmental projects, training and testing, as well as legal costs and civil penalties.
Safeway officials did not admit wrongdoing, but in a statement, the company said it was “among a number of retailers to agree to changes in how it characterizes everyday retail items no longer for sale as hazardous waste,” items such as aerosol sprays, detergents, hair dyes and antibacterial soaps.
Safeway said its stores have had measures in place for “some time” to identify and properly dispose of retail waste, but have enhanced those programs and added training, saying it is “committed to helping protect our environment.”
In the Safeway case, investigators first found hazardous and drug waste was being ferried from Safeway and affiliated stores to distribution centers and then to landfills. In a statement, Yolo County prosecutors said Safeway “routinely and systematically” sent the waste products to “local area landfills not equipped to receive such waste.”
Yolo County district attorney’s and Environmental Health Services staffers teamed up for the Safeway investigation, said David Irey, a chief assistant deputy district attorney in the Yolo DA’s office.
Yolo has aggressively pursued such cases over the years after finding that its county landfill and dumpsters were being used as a dumping ground for various retailers’ store waste.
“Yolo was one of the earliest agencies that discovered it,” then reached out to other DA’s offices, said Irey, who pursued similar cases alongside Yolo County while a prosecutor in the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
The Safeway settlement is but the latest in a string of illegal dumping judgments against major retailers doing business in California.
In April, home-improvement retailer Lowe’s was ordered to pay $18.1 million to settle similar allegations. In 2012, Walgreens agreed to pay $16.6 million after illegal dumping involving more than 600 California locations, while Rite Aid paid out $9.4 million in a September 2013 judgment.
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.
Settlements by retailers with California operations since 2010:
▪ Wal-Mart, $27.7 million, 2010
▪ Target, $22.5 million, 2011
▪ Lowe’s, $18.1 million, 2014
▪ Walgreens, $16.6 million, 2012
▪ CVS, $13.8 million, 2012
▪ Safeway, $9.9 million, 2015
▪ Rite Aid, $9.4 million, 2019
▪ Costco, $3.5 million, 2012
▪ Save Mart, $2.6 million, 2013
Source: California Department of Toxic Substances Control