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Walmart sued for allegedly dumping hazardous waste in California

A sign is posted in front of a Walmart store in American Canyon, Calif. The state has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for allegedly disposing of hazardous waste, state officials announced.
Justin Sullivan
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A sign is posted in front of a Walmart store in American Canyon, Calif. The state has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for allegedly disposing of hazardous waste, state officials announced.

California officials have filed a statewide lawsuit against Walmart alleging that the company illegally disposed of hazardous waste at landfills across the state.

In the 42-page document filed Monday by state prosecutors, the lawsuit alleges the retail giant illegally dumped nearly 160,000 pounds of hazardous waste, or more than 1 million items, each year in California over the last six years.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and 12 California district attorneys said Walmart violated California's environmental laws and regulations by dumping hazardous waste products at landfills that aren't equipped to handle the materials, including alkaline and lithium batteries, insect killer sprays, aerosol cans, toxic cleaning supplies and LED lightbulbs.

The lawsuit also claims Walmart dumped "confidential customer information" at these landfills.

"Walmart's own audits found that the company is dumping hazardous waste at local landfills at a rate of more than one million items each year. From there, these products may seep into the state's drinking water as toxic pollutants or into the air as dangerous gases," Bonta said in a statement.

Bonta said the lawsuit filed against the retail giant should serve as a warning to the state's "worst offenders."

In an emailed statement to NPR, Walmart said the company will defend itself and said the lawsuit is "unjustified."

"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," Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said. "The state is demanding a level of compliance regarding waste disposal from our stores of common household products and other items that goes beyond what is required by law."

The latest lawsuit filed against Walmart isn't the company's first with the state of California.

In 2010, the California Attorney General's Office reached a $25 million settlement against the retail giant for illegally disposing of hazardous waste. But according to the attorney general's office, a 2015 inspection found that Walmart continued to dump waste illegally.

"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," Hargrove said.

Since 2015, California investigators said 58 inspections of trash compactors taken from Walmart stores found dozens of items classified as either hazardous waste, medical waste or customer records with personal information.

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