A local judge has ordered North Carolina-based Lowe's Home Centers to pay $18 million in damages for environmental violations at stores in California, Bay Area prosecutors announced Wednesday.
A civil enforcement action filed in Alameda County Superior Court by 32 California district attorneys and two city attorneys alleged that more than 118 Lowe's stores in the state unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a 6.5-year period.
Prosecutors said the 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.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez, Jr., imposed the damage award to settle the civil environmental prosecution, which was led by the district attorneys of Alameda, San Joaquin and Solano counties.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in a statement, "It is imperative that any business operating in the state of California dispose of hazardous wastes safely and legally."
She said, "Today's action represents a major victory for our state's environment, and I wish to commend the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and all the district attorney offices involved in this prosecution."
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said, "The dangers inherent in dumping hazardous waste cannot be understated, it is absolutely essential that we protect our environment for future generations."
He said, "Those who would jeopardize our environment are on notice -- they will be held liable."
Prosecutors said Lowe's was cooperative throughout the investigation and has adopted and implemented enhanced policies and procedures designed to eliminate the disposal of hazardous waste products in California.
They said Lowe's stores are now required to retain their hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers in order 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 Lowe's stores in California through damage, spills and returns is now being collected by state-registered haulers, taken to proper disposal facilities and properly documented and accounted for, prosecutors said.
Lowe's spokeswoman Amanda Manna said the company agreed to the settlement as part of "our commitment to comply with all local, state and federal regulations for the disposal of hazardous materials."
Prosecutors said that from 2011 to 2013, inspectors from the environmental protection division in the Alameda County DA's Office and investigators from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, along with other district attorney investigators and environmental regulators statewide, conducted a series of waste inspections of dumpsters belonging to Lowe's stores.
They said 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.
Prosecutors said the inspections also revealed that at some Lowe's stores, batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs that the company had gathered from customers at store recycling kiosks as part of a program to responsibly reduce waste were unlawfully being discarded directly to the trash.
Under the final judgment, Lowe's must pay $12.85 million in civil penalties and costs.
The company must also pay an additional $2.075 million to fund supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California and fund hazardous waste minimization projects of $3.175 million.
A permanent injunction bars the retailer from committing similar violations of law in the future.