Drugstore chain Walgreens will pay Yolo County more than $1.4 million as part of a $16.5 million court-ordered settlement over claims that more than 600 of its California stores mishandled and disposed of hazardous waste, say officials and court documents.
The judgment, signed Thursday by Alameda Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill, orders the Chicago-based drugstore chain to pay more than $11.1 million in civil penalties, and more than $5 million to fund environmental projects and pay attorneys and investigative fees.
The Yolo County District Attorney's Office environmental unit and the county's environmental health office will get more than $1.1 million, officials said. Another $330,000 will go to fund a project led by the DA's environmental unit to test retail waste statewide.
"These penalties will go toward the funding of environmental investigations and send a clear message to businesses that these types of crimes will not go unnoticed or without penalty," Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said in a statement Thursday.
Walgreens must also follow state and federal regulations relating to disposing, storing and transporting hazardous waste.
The judgment comes months after Yolo and San Joaquin counties joined Alameda, Monterey, Solano and Riverside counties and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office in a civil enforcement lawsuit against Walgreens in the Alameda County courts in June.
The counties alleged that the drugstore chain's employees illegally handled hazardous retail waste during a 6 1/2-year span.
Investigators with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control launched the hazardous waste probe in 2009, asking tough questions about Walgreens' handling of hazardous retail waste at its stores, then sending their findings to prosecutors.
Prosecutors on Thursday said Yolo investigators played a key role in building the case that led to the multimillion-dollar award, tracking the retail waste from Dumpsters to local landfills. Woodland is home to two Walgreens locations and a regional distribution center.
"Yolo County was instrumental in this case," said David Irey, supervising deputy district attorney for San Joaquin County.
Yolo County DA investigators and environmental health investigators, along with other DA investigators scoured Dumpsters at Walgreens stores, distribution centers and other sites across the state in 2010 and 2011, then traced the discarded retail waste, including aerosols, pesticides and bleach to local landfills.
Dumpster inspections found that 34 of 37 Walgreens locations were in violation of state law, according to Yolo County DA officials
"We try to bring companies into compliance. We try to keep stuff out of landfills, and we want to make sure that (companies) are training their employees," Irey said. "Once you resolve one of these, it serves as a deterrent."
In a statement, Walgreens officials said their company did nothing wrong but agreed to settle to avoid lengthy legal proceedings, adding, "We are fully committed to continuing to improve our waste disposal practices."
Added allegations by state's attorneys that Walgreens locations mishandled patient information were also denied by the chain's officials.