Firestone Auto, prosecutors reach $4M settlement in hazardous waste case

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff
Firestone must pay millions of dollars to pay for civil penalties, costs of enforcement, biannual employee training and a state compliance specialist to prevent future violations.

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Firestone Complete Auto Care reached a $4 million settlement with prosecutors Friday over allegations that the business maintained unlawful waste management practices at 183 locations across California.

In a civil complaint filed Jan. 26, 29 district and city attorneys alleged Bridgestone Retail Operations, which does business as Firestone, negligently disposed of hazardous waste in improper locations. The alleged waste included automotive products including oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, mercury lamps, lead wheel weights and batteries, the complaint reads.

“My office will continue to hold companies accountable for the harm they cause to Alameda County’s precious natural resources,” said Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County district attorney, in a press release. “We are proud to work with our fellow prosecutors and environmental agencies statewide on this important enforcement action.”

District attorney investigators in Alameda and Santa Clara counties began searching Firestone’s trash containers in 2016 without the company’s knowledge, said Alameda County spokesperson Angela Ruggiero in an email, writing on behalf of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. The searches uncovered nonempty containers of hazardous waste, Ruggiero noted.

In the subsequent three years, inspections expanded to San Diego, San Bernardino and Orange counties, according to Ruggiero. Ruggiero added the investigation was spurred by similar violations at other automotive businesses in the state.

The prosecutors also alleged in the complaint that Firestone mishandled a different kind of sensitive waste: records containing customers’ personal information. Ruggiero noted the trash container searches revealed pages of these records, which must be rendered undecipherable before disposal under state law.

Friday’s settlement required Firestone to pay $2,865,000 in civil penalties and $350,000 for the costs of enforcement. The company will also be required to spend $725,000 on biannual employee training and a state compliance specialist to prevent future violations.

In addition to civil penalties, Firestone was ordered not to break the laws at issue in the case going forward.

“Should Firestone continue to violate the Judgment in the future, the DAs Offices involved can go to court to notify the court of the new violations and seek remedies from the court for this conduct,” Ruggiero said in the email.

Firestone did not admit to breaking the law as part of the settlement.

Bridgestone maintains “comprehensive” hazardous waste disposal and recycling processes that divert millions of pounds of oil, tires and solid waste from waste streams each year, according to Bridgestone spokesperson Rachel Withers.

“As an organization, we moved immediately to address these issues through a number of measures,” Withers said in an email. “We thank the California District Attorneys for their recognition of our efforts and their diligence in helping protect our natural environment.”

Gabe Classon is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @gabeclasson.