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Investigators, including several from Yolo County, found these improperly discarded batteries in a garbage compactor at at Lowe's store. Courtesy photo

Crime, Fire + Courts

Yolo DA receives $807,000 in Lowe’s civil settlement

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, along with 31 other California district attorneys and two city attorneys, announced Wednesday that Lowe’s Home Centers have been ordered to pay $18.1 million as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution.

There is one Lowe’s store in Yolo County, in West Sacramento, which unlawfully disposed of hazardous waste. Because the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office played a significant role in the investigations of the violations, the Yolo office will receive $807,000 in penalties and $25,000 in costs from Lowe’s.

The Yolo County Environmental Health Department will receive $100,000 in penalties and $4,250 in costs.

Settlements from civil prosecutions are deposited in a trust account with the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Prosecution Division and may be used only in actions involving environmental violations.

The settlement involving the North Carolina-based business was ordered by Alameda County Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez Jr.

The judgment is the culmination of a civil enforcement action filed in Alameda County claiming that more than 118 Lowe’s stores throughout the state unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a 6 1/2-year period.

Those hazardous wastes and materials included pesticides, aerosols, paint and colorants solvents, adhesives, batteries, mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs, electronic waste and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive materials.

From 2011 to 2013, investigators from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, along with Yolo County District Attorney investigators and other district attorney investigators and environmental regulators, conducted a series of statewide waste inspections of Dumpsters belonging to Lowe’s stores.

The inspections revealed that Lowe’s was routinely and systematically sending hazardous wastes to local landfills throughout California that were not permitted to receive those wastes.

The inspections also revealed that some Lowe’s stores were discarding directly into the trash items such as batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of recycling them. These were items that had been gathered from customers at store recycling kiosks.

Lowe’s was cooperative throughout the investigation and has implemented enhanced policies and procedures designed to eliminate the disposal of hazardous waste products in California, according to a news release. 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.

Hazardous waste produced by California Lowe’s stores will be taken to proper disposal facilities and is to be properly documented and accounted for.

Under the final judgment, Lowe’s must pay $12.85 million in civil penalties and costs. An additional $2.075 million will fund supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California, and Lowe’s will fund hazardous waste minimization projects of $3.175 million. The retailer will be bound under the terms of a permanent injunction prohibiting similar future violations of law.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney David Irey, one of the lead prosecutors in the case, complimented the efforts of the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and DA investigator Heidi D’Agostino.

“Nobody participated in more investigations of Lowe’s stores throughout the state than Yolo County DA Enforcement Officer D’Agostino,” Irey said. “This settlement recognizes District Attorney Reisig’s commitment to these important statewide environment prosecutions.”

Added Reisig, “Citizens of Yolo County demand no less of businesses than of themselves in obeying the state’s environmental laws. Today’s action represents a major victory and emphasizes our commitment to our environment. I applaud California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and all of the prosecutors involved in this case.”

Special to The Enterprise

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