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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Big Lots, Inc. to pay $3.5 million lawsuit

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

Allegations of unlawful hazardous waste disposal

Big Lots, Inc., a company that sells houseware, toys and seasonal goods, is set to pay a $3.5 million settlement following an investigation of its allegedly unlawful hazardous waste disposal. The statewide investigation included 36 attorneys, seeing as Big Lots, Inc. has locations all across the state of California.

Hazardous waste includes corrosive liquids, batteries, mercury-containing devices and toxic materials, which can be detrimental to the environment if not properly disposed of. For example, the waste can seep into surface water, which would then, in turn, drain into groundwater and pollute water sinks, killing wildlife and causing health issues for those who ingest it.

“This was a statewide investigation — there were 34 district attorneys from the state of California and two city attorneys who joined up in this investigation and settlement,” said Jeff Reisig, the Yolo County district attorney. “What we found was that Big Lots was disposing of waste improperly, both in regional distribution companies and their local stores around California. Those 34 counties all had Big Lots stores within their jurisdictions.”

Dumpsters and landfills were searched after allegations surfaced that Big Lots had been illegally dumping hazardous waste.

“We went through some of their compactors and dumpsters and discovered it, that’s how we figured it out,” said David Irey, the assistant chief deputy district attorney. “They [Big Lots] worked hard to come back into compliance, and they worked hard on their employee training program.”

It is still inconclusive as to how the allegations were first formed.

“I can’t speak for this case specifically, but generally, on cases like this, we get information sometimes from people who work for the companies that see that there is an ongoing problem […] The other way that this way comes about is through the landfills themselves — sometimes the stores will drop off at the landfill,” Reisig said. “Once we get the original tip, we investigate often by what we call ‘dumpster dives,’ where we inspect the materials that are being sent to the landfill by the company.”

The $3.5 million settlement was put toward carrying out the investigation itself, hiring additional California compliance personnel and working on projects that would benefit the environment.

“What that settlement accounts for is that California has laws for companies that pollute,” Reisig said. “[The settlement is to] pay for all the attorneys that were involved, and another part of the settlement is dedicated to funding supplemental environmental projects that protect the environment and consumers. Big Lots also agreed to pay about $800,000 to fund projects which are designed to reduce hazardous waste in California.”

The settlement serves as a reminder to Big Lots and other companies that proper waste disposal is crucial for the health of the environment and community.

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, we were once again able to hold another corporation accountable for their negligent actions and bring them into Compliance with California’s environmental laws,” said Mike Ramos, the San Bernardino County DA, in an interview with Daily Press.

 

Written by: Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee — city@theaggie.org

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