After a tip came in from San Joaquin County that big-box retailer Costco was improperly storing, handling, and disposing of hazardous wastes, 29 California District Attorneys banded together to find out more. Here in the East Bay, inspectors rifled through landfill-bound detritus from five Alameda County Costco stores. Elsewhere in the state, another three trash inspections took place. The searches confirmed the DA's suspicions: Costco was illegally dumping a variety of hazardous waste materials including pharmaceuticals, in-house cleaning products, and tire repair cement.
According to Senior Deputy District Attorney Ken Mifsud, Costco lacked the proper channels to handle these particular materials, and routinely sent them to the landfill. “It wasn’t in their system; they weren’t watching for it to make sure it wasn’t disposed of properly," he said. In other words, Costco's environmentally harmful handling of certain hazardous wastes, which can leach into the air and water and cause harm to plants, animals, and humans, was institutionalized and not due to momentary lapses. Misfud couldn't estimate the volume of hazardous materials Costco has dumped in local landfills over at least the past five years, but he did note that “it was not an acceptable amount.”
A civil suit was filed by the 29 District Attorneys in Alameda County Superior Court. Once Costco was informed of the violations, Misfud said, it reacted quickly: “Costco did a very good job of coming into compliance.” It took about seven months for the company to correct its handling of the named materials. As a result, the settlement resolving the case, which was announced earlier this week by Alameda County District Attorney Nance O'Malley, is significantly smaller than it could otherwise have been. The $3.6 million judgment applies to all 119 Costco stores in California.