Beveridge & Diamond
 

Rite Aid to Pay $12.3 Million for Failing to Properly Manage Waste Products from its California Stores

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., November 12, 2013

Rite Aid Corporation has agreed to pay more than $12.3 million to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that Rite Aid improperly managed, transported, and disposed of hazardous waste at hundreds of its California stores and distribution centers.  The hazardous wastes at issue include: pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications, bleaches, photo processing chemicals, pool chlorine and acids, pesticides, fertilizers, batteries, electronic devices, mercury containing lamps, paints, lamp oils and other ignitable liquids, aerosol products, oven cleaners and various other cleaning agents, automotive products, and other flammable, reactive, toxic and corrosive materials. 

Background

The case against Rite Aid began in 2009 when local environmental health agencies began to investigate Rite Aid facilities’ management of hazardous wastes.  Prosecutors, investigators, and environmental regulators statewide conducted a series of waste inspections at Rite Aid stores and local landfills.  The inspections revealed that over a six-and-a-half year period, Rite Aid had improperly managed certain hazardous wastes at its facilities, transported hazardous waste without meeting regulatory requirements, and in some cases illegally disposed of hazardous waste in landfills not authorized to accept such waste.  On September 17, 2013, fifty-three California district attorneys and two city attorneys filed a joint environmental protection lawsuit against Rite Aid.  Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code sections 25516 and 25516.1, the prosecutors brought a civil action in the name of the People of the State of California and sought to enjoin violations of California’s hazardous waste, medical waste, hazardous waste transportation and hazardous materials release response laws and implementing regulations. 

The Allegations

The prosecutors asserted that Rite Aid stores engaged in numerous violations of California’s hazardous waste laws and regulations, including:

  • Disposal of hazardous waste at unauthorized points, such a trash compactors, dumpsters, drains, sinks, toilets, Rite Aid facilities, and landfills or transfer stations not authorized to receive hazardous waste, in violation of Health and Safety Code sections 25189 and 25189.2;
  • Failure to determine whether each waste generated at each facility in question as a result of a spill, container break, or other means of rending the product not useable for its intended purpose was a hazardous waste, as required under the California Code of Regulations (“CCR”), Title 22, sections 66262.11 and 66260.200;
  • Transporting or transferring custody of hazardous wastes without a properly licensed and registered transporter, as required by Health and Safety Code section 25163;
  • Failure to dispose of accumulated hazardous wastes from facilities at least once during every 90 day period, as required by CCR Title 22, section 66262.34;
  • Failure to timely file with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”) a hazardous waste manifest for all hazardous waste transported for offsite handling, treatment, storage, disposal or combination thereof, as required by Health and Safety Code section 25160(b)(3) and CCR Title 22, section 66262.23;
  • Failure to contact the transporter or owner/operator of the designated receiving facility to determine the status of hazardous waste in the event of non-receipt of a copy of a manifest with the signature of the owner/operator within 35 days of the date the waste was accepted by the transporter, as required by CCR Title 22, section 66262.42; 
  • Treatment, storage, disposal, and transport of hazardous waste without receiving and using a proper EPA or DTSC identification number for the originating facility, as required by CCR Title 22, section 66262.12(a);
  • Failure to maintain a program for the lawful storage, handling and accumulation of hazardous waste, as required by Health and Safety Code section 25123.3 and CCR Title 22, sections 66262.34, 66265.173 and 662165.177;
  • Failure to properly designate hazardous waste storage areas, segregate hazardous wastes, and failure to conduct inspections, as required by CCR Title 22, sections 66262.34 and 66265.174;
  • Failure to comply with employee training obligations for the management of hazardous waste, as required by CCR Title 22, section 66262.34;
  • Failure to have in place at all times a hazardous waste contingency plan and emergency procedures for each facility, as required by CCR Title 22, section 66262.34;
  • Failure to continuously implement, maintain, and submit a complete hazardous materials business plan, as required by Health and Safety Code sections 25503(a), 25504, 25505 and CCR Title 19, sections 2729 et seq.;
  • Failure to immediately report any release or threatened release of a reportable quantity of any hazardous material from any facility into the environment, as required by Health and Safety Code sections 25501 and 25507;
  • Failure to properly manage, mark, and store universal waste in compliance with management standards in CCR Title 22, sections 66273.1 et seq.;
  • Failure to comply with the California Medical Waste Management Act (Health and Safety Code sections 117600 et seq.); and
  • Causing to deposit, without permission of the owner, hazardous substances upon the land of another, in violation of California Penal Code section 374.8(b).

The prosecutors sought civil penalties for each violation and reimbursement of the costs of investigation, enforcement, prosecution, and attorneys’ fees. 

The Consent Judgment

On September 24, 2013, Judge Linda L. Lofthus issued an order approving the consent judgment negotiated by the parties.  Under the agreement, Rite Aid agreed to fully comply with the Code sections and regulations at issue in the Complaint.   Moving forward, stores will be required to retain their hazardous waste in segregated, labeled containers so as to minimize the risk of exposure to employees and to ensure that incompatible wastes do not combine to cause dangerous chemical reactions.  The company will continue to designate four full-time employees responsible for environmental, health, regulatory and safety compliance assurance in California.  California Rite Aid stores will work with state-registered haulers to document, collect and properly dispose of hazardous waste produced through damage, spills and returns.  Moreover, Rite Aid has implemented a computerized scanning system and other environmental training to manage its waste.

Rite Aid agreed to pay $9,500,000.00 in civil penalties pursuant to Health and Safety Code sections 25189 and 25514 and Business and Professions Code section 17206, to the prosecuting and regulatory agencies.  Rite Aid also agreed to pay $1,974,000 for certain supplemental environmental projects.  Finally, Rite Aid will pay $950,000 for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees, costs of investigation, and other costs of enforcement.

According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Rite Aid was cooperative with prosecutors and investigators throughout the case.

Conclusion

The Rite Aid case reflects continued active enforcement by California’s prosecutors and regulators of the state’s environmental protection laws against retailers related to alleged mismanagement of hazardous wastes.  Since 2011, California regulators have secured more than seven multi-million dollar settlements in hazardous waste enforcement actions against large retailers. 

If you have questions regarding how these laws and recent enforcement impact your company, please contact Laura Metz Duncan (Principal) at (415) 262-4003, lduncan@bdlaw.com; Don Patterson (Principal) at (202) 789-6032, dpatterson@bdlaw.com; or Sara L. Vink (Associate) at (202) 789-6044, svink@bdlaw.com.

Key Documents:

The Press Release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is available here.