Investigators at California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have been hard at work – this time inspecting trash disposal sites behind Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse stores for toxic dumping. In conjunction with the investigative skills of Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), DTSC determined that Lowe’s stores had been illegally dumping toxic materials at landfill sites that weren’t authorized to receive the materials.
The DTSC says that the materials included pesticides, aerosols, mercury-based fluorescent bulbs and other items not eligible for landfill disposal. Investigators state that more than 110 stores across the state were found to be dumping toxic items improperly.
Between 2011 and 2013, OCI investigators visited dumpster locations throughout California and gathered evidence. “These dumpster examinations revealed that Lowe’s was routinely and systematically sending hazardous wastes into local landfills throughout California,” the DTSC stated in its April 2 press release. Those items included in some cases batteries, plastics and other items that customers donated to the store’s widely publicized recycling program.
Under Wednesday’s judgment, Lowe’s will pay $18.1 million; $12.9 million will be paid in civil penalties and costs. Another $5.3 million will go toward projects that aid in consumer protection, environmental enforcement and hazardous waste abatement in California. DTSC will also receive approximately $1.67 million of the paid amount in penalties. Some 30 district and city attorneys from Los Angeles to San Diego also joined in the civil environmental enforcement action, which was led by district attorneys from Alameda, Solano and San Joaquin counties.
California stores are required to segregate their hazardous substances and dispose of them via authorized hazardous disposal methods. This includes pharmaceuticals normally dispensed in pharmacies as well as chemicals that would be sold in hardware or home improvement stores. The DTSC says this accomplishes two purposes: To ensure employees, the public and the environment aren’t exposed to hazardous substances through accidental or unsafe handling and to guard against dangerous mixing of chemicals after they have been disposed.
Lowe’s is not the first large retailer to be found guilty of illegal dumping in California. According to DTSC, since 2010 its actions have brought in more than $100 million in penalties and fees from large-scale toxic dumpings. Those who were “sleuthed” by California’s toxic investigators include some of the country’s largest stores.
Money Recouped by DTSC
Of that $104.7 million in settlements, says the agency, “DTSC received about $4.8 million in costs, penalties or judgments.”
Image credit: Mike Mozart