Story updated on 12/14 to include a statement from Walgreen Co.: Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, along with 42 other DA’s Offices and two City Attorney’s Offices throughout the state, announced Thursday that an Alameda County judge has ordered Walgreen Co. to pay $16.57 million as part of a settlement in a civil environmental prosecution.
The final judgment is the culmination of claiming that more than 600 Walgreens stores statewide unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a six-and-half-year period, according to Riverside County DA spokesman John Hall.
"Those included pesticides, bleach, paint, aerosols, automotive products and solvents, pharmaceutical and bio hazardous wastes, and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials," Hall said.
"This settlement also resolves allegations that Walgreens stores unlawfully disposed of customer records containing confidential medical information without preserving that confidential information," Hall continued. "Walgreen Co. will now be required to take proper steps to preserve the confidentiality of the medical information of pharmacy customers."
At the time of the lawsuit, all 53 Walgreens stores and one distribution center in Riverside County were involved in the hazardous waste violations, Hall reported.
There are several Walgreens locations in Southwest Riverside County, including five in Murrieta, two in Lake Elsinore and one in Menifee.
In November 2011, Riverside County DA’s investigators examined the trash disposal of four Walgreens stores in Riverside County and found that the violations were continuing. At that time, items such as pharmaceutical waste, nail polish, batteries and electronic devices were found to have been improperly disposed of, the spokesman said.
Under the final judgment, Walgreen Co. must pay $16.57 million in civil penalties and costs. It also funds supplemental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California.
Walgreen Co. will be bound under the terms of a permanent injunction prohibiting similar future alleged violations of law.
Stores are now required to retain hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers to minimize the risk of exposure to employees and customers as well as ensure that incompatible wastes do not combine to cause potentially dangerous chemical reactions, Hall said.
Under the settlement, Walgreen Co. will pay $1,041,000 in civil penalties and cost recovery to the Riverside County DA’s Office and $219,750 in civil penalties and cost recovery to the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, Hall said.
Walgreen Co. issued the following statement regarding 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.”
The investigation into Walgreen Co. began in 2009 and involved local, city and county environmental regulators as well as the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The order was signed by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wynee Carvill.