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California Sues Walmart Over Alleged Improper Hazardous Waste Disposal

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) -- California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that the state has filed a lawsuit against Walmart over allegations that it has improperly disposed of hazardous waste.

The lawsuit alleges that Walmart has disposed of items like aerosol cans, alkaline and lithium batteries, insect killer sprays and confidential customer information in local landfills rather than facilities that are authorized to receive those types of waste.

According to Bonta, Walmart is estimated to have illegally disposed of some 159,600 pounds of hazardous waste each year for the past six years.

"The company's behavior is unacceptable, and since it won't clean up its act, we're taking Walmart to court," Bonta said Monday during a briefing to announce the lawsuit.

Investigators with the state Department of Justice inspected Walmart trash compactors on 58 occasions across 13 counties between 2015 and this year, finding dozens of items classified as hazardous waste, according to Bonta.

The state has previously cited Walmart for improperly disposing hazardous waste, coming to a $25 million settlement with the company in 2010.

Bonta jointly filed the lawsuit with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the district attorneys of 12 counties, including Alameda, Monterey and Solano counties.

"Violations of California's hazardous waste laws endanger workers and the integrity of our landfills and groundwater," Monterey District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni said in a statement. "We are committed to bringing businesses into compliance with these laws to protect public safety."

Walmart offered the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

We have met with the state numerous times and walked them through our industry-leading hazardous waste compliance programs in an effort to avoid litigation. Instead, they filed this unjustified lawsuit. The state is demanding a level of compliance regarding waste disposal from our stores of common house-hold products and other items that goes beyond what is required by law. We intend to defend the company.

Walmart is a responsible corporate citizen in California and everywhere we operate. We take our obligation to protect the environment seriously and have industry leading processes in place to comply with local, state and federal environmental laws.

Since 2010, we met the requirements of a court supervised settlement requiring the proper disposal of common consumer products such as lip balm, empty shampoo bottles, aerosol cans, and loose AA batteries. We worked with the California Attorney General, District Attorneys, and the Court to build and maintain our comprehensive hazardous waste compliance programs. In 2018, the Court agreed "that Walmart had done so close to everything that's required that nothing more can be required..." Yet, as the Court was prepared to relieve Walmart of its obligations under the settlement, the Attorney General's office launched a new investigation with new rules in hopes that Walmart would enter another settlement requiring another substantial financial payment.

California regulators have conducted more than 3,800 environmental inspections of our stores since 2010 and have not imposed any fines on Walmart for violations of California's Hazardous Waste Control Law, demonstrating the effectiveness of our hazardous waste programs. Audits of our compactor waste conducted or overseen by the California Attorney General have shown the waste in our compactors contain at most 0.4% of items of potential concern they've identified. The statewide average is 3% based on a CalRecycle statewide solid waste study, so Walmart's compactors are far cleaner than the state average.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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