Rite Aid will pay Yolo County $420,000 as part of a multimillion-dollar settlement over claims that the drugstore chain illegally dumped pesticides, bleach and other toxics that came from hundreds of its California locations.
The judgment, filed Sept. 24 in San Joaquin Superior Court, settled a lawsuit filed in September by district attorneys in San Joaquin, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. After almost four years of investigation, prosecutors alleged that about 600 Rite Aid outlets illegally dumped hazardous waste into landfills over nearly seven years. An additional 52 attorneys representing counties and cities, including Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties, joined the suit.
Prosecutors say inspectors discovered Rite Aid illegally trucked and dumped pesticides, bleach, paint, medicines, biohazards, solvents and other poisons in landfills.
As part of the settlement, Rite Aid will pay $9.4 million in civil penalties, $1,974,000 for a variety of environmental projects and $950,000 in attorneys’ fees; hire employees to ensure environmental and safety compliance; and improve how its stores package, scan and review returned and damaged items.
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Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in a statement announcing the court decision, said the settlement “changes the long-standing practices of a major corporation.”
“The penalties have to be meaningful,” said Heidi D’Agostino, a senior enforcement officer at the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and a key part of the investigation. Yolo County has Rite Aids in Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland, as well as the company’s Northern California distribution center in Woodland.
“We want Rite Aid to train its employees,” D’Agostino said. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to mitigate what’s clearly been disposed of, but they can rethink how they’re training people.”
Of Yolo’s $420,000 share, $162,500 will go to its Environmental Health unit for environmental testing, training, disposal and other needs. The balance will go to the district attorney to prosecute environmental crimes.
Yolo County and D’Agostino have been aggressive in recent years in pursuing hazardous-waste claims against major retailers. In December 2012, Yolo received $1.2 million as part of a $16.5 million judgment against Walgreens for similar violations involving more than 600 of its locations across the state. The county also received more than $800,000 of a $22.5 million settlement against Target to settle claims that it illegally dumped products.
“Nobody has the right to pollute our land,” D’Agostino said. “No company should be surprised that we’re going through their trash.”