Dozens of Walgreens stores around the state routinely sent hazardous waste to local landfills and failed to take measures to protect the privacy of their pharmacy customers’ confidential medical information, authorities said.
As a result, a judge in Alameda Superior Court ordered Walgreen Co. to pay $16.57 million as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution for hazardous waste disposal violations, the local District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
During the statewide inspections, 34 of 37 Walgreens stores violated state law, including three retailers checked in San Diego County.
All Walgreens in San Diego County were in violation of throwing out medical records improperly, said District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Tanya Sierra.
“Three in particular violated hazardous waste regulations,” Sierra said via email.
According to Deputy District Attorney Karen Doty, the local stores “all had violations when waste audits were done of the Dumpsters.” They were at 3222 University Ave. in North Park, 5004 Balboa Ave. in North Clairemont and 10787 Camino Ruiz in Mira Mesa.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said: “Protecting consumer information and safely handling dangerous waste is paramount for all businesses in California.
“Our environmental protection team did an outstanding job prosecuting this case and collaborating with other agencies to arrive at today’s multimillion-dollar judgment.”
A civil enforcement lawsuit was filed in Alameda County in June 2012 and was led by the district attorneys in Alameda, Riverside, San Joaquin, Solano, Monterey and Yolo counties and of Los Angeles, County News Center said in a news release.
“The lawsuit contends that more than 600 Walgreens stores throughout the state, including 36 in San Diego [County], unlawfully handled and disposed of hazardous waste for more than six years,” the county said.
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 county said.
“The settlement also resolves allegations that Walgreens unlawfully disposed of customer records containing confidential medical information without preserving confidentiality,” said the county.
All 36 Walgreens stores in San Diego County were involved in the violations, the county said.
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.
Under the settlement, Walgreen Co. will pay $223,000 in civil penalties and cost recovery to the 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, the county said.
“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,” the county said.
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, officials said.
“The settlement also requires Walgreens to take proper steps to preserve the confidentiality of their pharmacy customer’s medical information,” they said.