Electronic waste has been around a long time and so have laws against dumping it in local landfills unequipped to deal with its hazardous components.
Last week, California took its first enforcement action against a giant telecom for doing that when it penalized AT&T $23.8 million for nine years of illegal dumping by its 235 state facilities. The company admitted no wrongdoing in the proposed settlement (pdf) but will pay the civil penalty and $28 million over five years for “enhanced environmental compliance measures.”
The settlement still needs to be approved by an Alameda Superior Court judge.
“Enhanced” compliance does not include actually cleaning up any of the mess, which is scattered up and down the state. Liza Tucker at Consumer Watchdog said the result is, “They're being fined what amounts to chump change for a company like AT&T, and the public is not going to be protected in the end because wherever they've illegally disposed of that waste, it's going to stay there.”
AT&T dumped electronic equipment, batteries, aerosol cans, gels, liquids and other items used by service technicians by mixing it in with the regular garbage. The toxic materials can leech into the soil and wind up in groundwater. The $28 million will be spent on properly sorting their own trash, which Attorney General Kamala Harris believes will inspire other giant polluters.
In a statement, she said, “AT&T will be required to implement strict compliance measures at its facilities that set an example for other companies to safeguard our communities against hazardous waste.” That was an example not followed in 2011 after Target paid $22.5 million to settle a California lawsuit over seven years of hazardous waste dumping at hundreds of stores.
The settlement comes three years after investigators with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office found that all 13 AT&T facilities in the county were illegally disposing of hazardous waste. Verizon was reportedly also under investigation.
As part of the settlement AT&T will be the subject of three independent audits and hundreds of annual unannounced dumpster inspections over the next five years.