Mooresville-based home-improvement retailing giant Lowe’s Cos. Inc. has agreed to pay $18.1 million to settle California claims that it illegally disposed of hazardous waste at more than 100 of its home-improvement stores throughout the state.
The settlement, approved in Alameda Superior Court, closed a civil environmental prosecution following a joint investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Office of Criminal Investigations, more than 30 California district attorneys and the city attorneys of Los Angeles and San Diego. The civil enforcement action – led by the district attorneys of Alameda, San Joaquin and Solano counties – alleged that more than 118 Lowe’s stores throughout the state unlawfully handled and disposed of hazardous wastes for 6-1/2 years.
The court filing included Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Placer County District Attorney R. Scott Owens.
The improperly discarded hazardous wastes and related materials included pesticides, aerosols, paint and colorants, solvents, adhesives, batteries, mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs, electronic waste and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials.
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The probe included state scientists and investigators conducting dumpster examinations to gather evidence from 2011 to 2013. Officials said those examinations revealed that Lowe’s routinely sent hazardous wastes into California landfills that were not permitted to receive those wastes. At some Lowe’s stores, employees were unlawfully throwing away batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs that customers had turned in to be recycled, the Department of Toxic Substances Control said.
Under the judgment, DTSC said Lowe’s must pay nearly $13 million in civil penalties and costs. An additional $2.1 million will fund supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California, and Lowe’s will fund hazardous waste minimization projects of about $3 million. DTSC’s share of paid penalties comes to about $1.5 million.
DTSC said stores are 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.
Karen Cobb, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, issued this statement on Wednesday: “Over the last 12 years, the California district attorneys have investigated a number of retailers for allegedly disposing of hazardous materials improperly by placing them in dumpsters. As part of our commitment to complying with local, state and federal regulations concerning disposal of hazardous waste, Lowe’s agreed to the settlement.”
DTSC said it has assisted state and local prosecutors in cases that, since 2010, have generated about $105 million as penalties, judgments or projects through statewide environmental enforcement cases. Other settlements have included large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
With fiscal 2013 sales of $53.4 billion, Lowe’s has more than 1,830 home improvement and hardware stores and 260,000 employees.