Walgreen Co. has settled a lawsuit by 42 California counties for illegally dumping hazardous waste and unlawfully disposing confidential customer medical information, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday, Dec. 13.
The Illinois-based company will pay $16.57 million as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution. The settlement also resolves allegations that Walgreens unlawfully disposed of customer records containing confidential medical information without preserving the confidentiality of the information.
The complaint alleged that more than 600 Walgreens stores throughout the state unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a 6.5-year period, including pesticides, bleach, paint, aerosols, automotive products and solvents, pharmaceutical and bio-hazardous wastes and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials.
The case originated from an investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and local environmental health agencies during the fall of 2009.
In 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 did not protect the customer information. During the statewide inspections, 34 out of 37 Walgreens stores were found to be in violation of state law.
The lawsuit was filed in Alameda County in June 2012 and was led by the District Attorneys of Alameda, San Joaquin, Solano, Monterey, Riverside, and Yolo, and the City Attorney of Los Angeles.
Under the final judgment, the $16.57 million will cover civil penalties and costs and funds environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California. A permanent injunction also prohibits Walgreens from similar future violations.
As a result of the prosecution, California Walgreens stores have adopted new policies and procedures, the district attorney's office said. Stores are now required to retain their hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers 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.