Tesla settles hazardous waste lawsuit in California

Automotive company agrees to $1.5 million settlement, change procedures after investigators discover improper hazardous waste disposal at facilities; includes locations in Fresno, Visalia

Tesla is set to pay the state of California a $1.5 million settlement after investigation discovered the company was dumping various hazardous waste materials in regular trash containers, dumpsters, and trash compactors. (Tada Images on AdobeStock)
Tesla is set to pay the state of California a $1.5 million settlement after investigation discovered the company was dumping various hazardous waste materials in regular trash containers, dumpsters, and trash compactors. (Tada Images on AdobeStock)
Derek Fleming
Published February 7, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

TULARE COUNTY – Tesla has settled a $1.5 million lawsuit brought by dozens of counties in California this month. The settlement was reached after investigators determined the electric automobile manufacturer had been disposing of hazardous waste in regular garbage cans since at least 2018. 

As per the lawsuit’s settlement, Tesla will pay California $1.3 million in penalties and an additional $200,000 to cover the cost of the investigation. The case was filed in San Joaquin County District Court and involved 25 California counties in which Tesla facilities are located or hazardous waste was dumped, including Tulare and Fresno County, which were both enjoined in the suit. 

Tesla agreed to settle the matter just two days after the filing was made. Investigators say that throughout the process, Tesla has been cooperative. 

One of the facilities listed in the complaint is located at 8900 W. Hurley Ave. in Visalia, which manufactures solar cells for charging stations. Also listed is a warehouse on North Armstrong Avenue in Fresno, which is used for storage and manufacturing of panels, as well as the Tesla sales and service center located at 2988 N. Burl Ave.  

According to the lawsuit, Tesla was found to be dumping various hazardous waste materials in regular trash containers, dumpsters, and trash compactors. California law strictly prohibits the dumping of hazardous waste that can cause groundwater contamination and might lead to birth defects, cancer and other health hazards. 

In addition to the penalties, Tesla is also ordered to undergo third-party monitoring at 10% of its facilities for five years. The company will be required to educate employees on the proper handling of hazardous waste and will be subject to annual inspections of trash facilities. 

A spokesperson for Tesla declined to comment on the settlement to The Sun-Gazette. Tesla has so far refused to take responsibility for the improper disposal of waste at its facilities. 

In a press release, San Joaquin County District Attorney Ron Freitas noted the role electric vehicles play in environmental betterment, and said it is “imperative to recognize that their production and maintenance yield detrimental waste.”

“Ensuring companies are responsible for the proper management and disposal of hazardous waste is essential in safeguarding our natural resources and upholding California’s robust environmental regulations,” Freitas said.

The suit was filed in San Joaquin District Court and involved investigations of 101 Tesla service centers as well as the primary manufacturing facility located in Fremont, Calif. A statewide investigation was triggered when the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Environmental Division conducted an undercover search of trash containers at Bay Area service centers. 

Investigators determined that Tesla was dumping used lubricating oils, brake fluids, lead acid batteries, aerosols, antifreeze, waste solvents, paint, e-waste and materials contaminated with hazardous materials, in regular trash sent to facilities not authorized to handle these types of waste. The investigation was ongoing for five years, during which time, Tesla continued to violate the law despite knowing about the investigation.

The suit is the latest to cost the second-largest producer of electric vehicles in the world. In 2022, the company paid a fine of $275,000 for violating the Clean Air Act at the Fremont manufacturing facility. Tesla also paid out $31,000 in 2019 after failing to properly store hazardous waste at the same facility.

Derek Fleming
The Sun-Gazette | Contributors