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Whole Foods pays $1.6 Million in hazardous waste settlement

A Yolo County Superior Court Judge has ordered Whole Foods Inc. to pay more than $1.6 million for mishandling hazardous wastes and materials throughout the state of California.

Judge Thomas E. Warriner has ordered Whole Foods Market California Inc. and two related entities to pay $1,643,500 as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution.

More than $200,000 of this amount will support various environmental projects, including the prosecution of environmental violations in the counties that lack the expertise and resources to prosecute these types of violations.

Twenty-one California District and City Attorneys, including Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley, worked on this case.

“All businesses that operate in Santa Barbara County must comply with state environmental laws, and we are pleased that today’s settlement resolves this matter with Whole Foods,” said Dudley. “Due to the cooperation of the Whole Foods companies throughout the investigation and prosecution, we were able to work toward a fair resolution.”

According to the District Attorneys’ complaint, Whole Foods, Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets, and WFM-WO Inc. mishandled hazardous wastes and materials throughout the state over a five-year span. The hazardous wastes and materials included batteries, ignitable liquids, and other flammable, reactive, toxic materials.

At the start of the investigation, 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 requires the companies 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 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 cost of the investigation and $237,900 to fund supplemental environmental projects furthering consumer protection and environmental enforcement in California.

Of those totals, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office will receive $3,750 in civil penalties and $900 in cost recovery, and Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services will receive $1,500 in civil penalties.

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