Alameda County District Attorney's Office
Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney

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Whole Foods to Pay $1.64 Million in Hazardous Waste Settlement

Stores throughout the State improperly handled and disposed of hazardous wastes

Oakland, California – District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley announced today that her office, together with 21 other California District and City Attorneys, has filed and settled a civil law enforcement action in Yolo County Superior Court against Whole Foods Market California Inc. and two related entities. The settlement requires the Whole Foods entities to pay $1.64 million and resolves allegations that companies violated California laws for the safe storage, handling, and disposal of hazardous wastes over a five-year period.

According to the District Attorneys’ complaint, Whole Foods Market California Inc., Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets Inc., and WFM-WO Inc., unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials throughout the state over a five-year period. These hazardous wastes and materials included batteries, electronic devices, ignitable liquids, aerosol products, cleaning agents, and other flammable, reactive, toxic, and corrosive materials.

“We remain ever vigilant in the protection of our natural resources and the proper disposal of hazardous waste is vitally important in safeguarding the environment from toxic pollutants that pose a threat to the health of humans, wildlife, and plants,” says DA O’Malley.

The investigation of Whole Foods began when Yolo County regulators found the companies’ documentation of employee hazardous-waste training to be incomplete. A statewide check confirmed these deficiencies were systemic.

The judgment announced today was designed to prevent Whole Foods stores from committing similar hazardous-waste violations in the future. The judgment requires Whole Foods Market California Inc., Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets Inc., and WFM-WO Inc. to properly label, package, and store hazardous waste to minimize the risk of exposure to employees and customers, and to ensure that incompatible wastes do not combine to cause dangerous chemical reactions. The judgment also requires the companies to properly document their hazardous waste and dispose of their hazardous waste at authorized disposal facilities.

Under the settlement, the Whole Foods entities must pay $1,202,800 in civil penalties, $202,800 to reimburse the costs of the investigation, and $237,900 to fund supplemental environmental projects supporting various environmental projects, including the prosecution of environmental violations in counties that lack the expertise and resources to prosecute these types of violations. The Whole Foods entities must also improve the training of their staff and management of hazardous waste, and to hire an employee to strengthen the companies’ hazardous-waste programs.

There are five Whole Foods markets in Alameda County and all five are subject to the terms of the civil settlement.

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Posted on Sep 20, 2018