Safeway to pay nearly $10m for improper disposal of hazardous waste

Safeway Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $10 million in civil penalties to settle a environmental protection lawsuit filed in Oakland alleging that the grocery store chain failed to properly dispose of hazardous waste at more than 500 California facilities over seven years.

The San Francisco and Alameda County district attorney's offices said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill approved the settlement this morning after 41 district attorneys and two city attorneys filed a complaint on Wednesday.

District attorney's offices in Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties also participated.

“This investigation touched nearly every county in California, and today's results could not have been reached without the collaborative work of the many offices involved,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in a statement.

Prosecutors alleged that Safeway sent hazardous waste including medication, aerosol cans, flammable liquids, batteries, electronic devices and other toxic materials to landfills instead of properly disposing of them.

The materials were either sold at Safeway stores or used for work within Safeway facilities, such as for cleaning.

They were disposed after the materials were spilled, broken, contaminated, their containers or labels were damaged or they passed their sell-by date, according to the complaint.

The violations came to the attention of district attorney's investigators and environmental regulators when they conducted inspections of Safeway trash receptacles in 2012 and 2013, according to Alameda County prosecutors.

The investigation revealed that Safeway was routinely sending such hazardous waste to landfills in violation of state and federal law. Furthermore, the Pleasanton-based company was disposing of pharmaceutical records without taking steps to protect customers' privacy, according to prosecutors.

Once the issues were brought to the company's attention, it took steps to stop the improper disposal of the waste, implementing new procedures to redirect potentially toxic trash.

A complaint against Safeway was filed Wednesday and quickly settled this morning, with Safeway agreeing to pay $9.87 million in civil penalties in addition to the new policies and procedures.

“Today's settlement marks a victory for our state's environment as well as for the security and privacy of confidential patient information throughout California,” O'Malley said.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement, “If you take shortcuts that pollute our environment there will be consequences. Judgments like these are a reminder to companies everywhere that we will vigorously pursue violations that threaten the environment.”

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