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Walgreens to pay $16.57 million for hazardous waste disposal violations in San Diego, across state

SAN DIEGO -- A judge in Alameda Superior Court has ordered the Illinois-based Walgreen Co. to pay $16.57 million as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution in California.

“Protecting consumer information and safely handling dangerous waste is paramount for all businesses in California,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who joined 42 other district attorneys and two city attorneys to prosecute the case.

“Our environmental protection team did an outstanding job prosecuting this case and collaborating with other agencies to arrive at today’s multimillion- dollar judgment,” she said.

The judgment is the culmination of a civil enforcement lawsuit filed in Alameda County in June 2012 and led by the District Attorneys of Alameda, Riverside, San Joaquin, Solano, Monterey, Yolo and the City Attorney of Los Angeles.

The lawsuit contends that more than 600 Walgreens stores throughout the state, including 36 in San Diego, unlawfully handled and disposed of hazardous waste for more than six years. The hazardous waste included pesticides, bleach, paint, aerosols, automotive products and solvents, pharmaceutical and bio hazardous waste, and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials.

The settlement also resolves allegations that Walgreens unlawfully disposed of customer records containing confidential medical information without preserving confidentiality. All 36 Walgreens stores in San Diego County were involved in the violations.

During the summer and fall of 2011, investigators from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Environmental Protection Unit and County Department of Environmental Health regulators, along with other district attorney investigators and environmental regulators statewide, conducted a series of waste inspections of dumpsters belonging to Walgreens’ stores. The inspections revealed that Walgreens routinely and systematically sent hazardous waste to local landfills and failed to take measures to protect the privacy of their pharmacy customers’ confidential medical information.

During the statewide inspections, 34 of 37 Walgreens stores were in violation of state law, including three retailers investigated in San Diego County.

Under the final judgment, Walgreens must pay $16.57 million in civil penalties and costs. It also funds supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California. The retailer will be bound under the terms of a permanent injunction prohibiting similar future violations of law. Under the settlement, Walgreen Co. will pay $223,000 in civil penalties and cost recovery to San Diego County Department of Environmental Health and $507,750 in civil penalties and cost recovery to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

Stores are now required to retain their hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers so as 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 customer’s medical information.

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All photos are from a waste audit of dumpsters at the Walgreens located at 3222 University Ave. in San Diego's North Park neighborhood and performed on Oct. 11, 2011 by D.E.H. regulators, DA Investigators and City Attorney Investigators.