Tesla settles for $1.5 million after allegations of illegally disposing hazardous waste


An environmental investigation by the San Francisco district attorney’s office that began in 2018 and spurred similar inquiries throughout the state concluded Thursday, when a San Joaquin County judge ordered Tesla to pay $1.5 million for improperly disposing of hazardous materials.

The individual efforts turned into one combined civil environmental prosecution by 25 district attorneys from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and other counties into allegations that Tesla improperly disposed of used lead acid batteries, antifreeze, paint and electronic waste at its car service and energy centers throughout California.

The electric vehicle giant was also placed on a five-year injunction, which includes training employees to properly dispose of hazardous materials. Tesla must also hire an outside contractor to audit some of its trash containers for hazardous waste.

“While electric vehicles may benefit the environment, the manufacturing and servicing of these vehicles still generates many harmful waste streams,” San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins said in a statement. “[Thursday’s] settlement against Tesla, Inc. serves to provide a cleaner environment for citizens throughout the state.”

Tesla lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2018, the San Francisco district attorney’s Environmental Division launched undercover inspections of trash containers at Tesla service departments. Investigators found that hazardous waste such as lubricating oils, brake cleaners, aerosols and contaminated debris were not properly disposed.

In court documents, the plaintiffs allege that Tesla placed hazardous waste into “any trash container, dumpster, or compactor at the facilities” or improperly outsourced the materials to transfer stations and landfills not suited for hazardous waste.

In Alameda County, inspectors found weld spatter waste, which sometimes contains copper, along with paint mix, used wipes with primer and other hazardous waste dumped into ordinary trash containers at Tesla’s Fremont factory.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer and Riverside County Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin both said in statements that their own inspections at Tesla facilities “found similar unlawful disposal.”

Neither office responded to a Times request for elaboration on what was found and where.

“A company that is supposedly environmentally friendly should know better than to illegally dump hazardous waste that threatens to do irreparable damage to our communities,” Spitzer said in a statement.

Of the settlement money to be paid, $1.3 million will be split up among the 25 counties, while $200,000 pays for the cost of investigations.

Alameda County is slated to take the largest share, $225,000. San Francisco and San Joaquin will each claim $200,000; San Diego, Orange and Riverside will get $100,000; Los Angeles, $15,000; and Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Ventura, $10,000.

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