San Joaquin County District Attorney files environmental hazard case against Quest Diagnostics

A well-known medical testing laboratory mishandled patient data, medical waste, and hazardous materials, according to a recent court filing by San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.

Quest Diagnostics could be forced to pay nearly $5 million in penalties, costs, and supplemental environmental projects. The company would also be required to "make significant changes to its operations and practices at its California facilities," according to prosecutors.

"Californians need to know that when they visit their doctor, they are not harming the environment or having their identities put at risk." District Attorney Ron Freitas stated in a press release. "The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is proud to be a leader in environmental protection and a leader in prosecuting institutions regardless of their degree of establishment."

Quest Diagnostics could be forced to pay nearly $5 million in penalties, costs, and supplemental environmental projects.
Quest Diagnostics could be forced to pay nearly $5 million in penalties, costs, and supplemental environmental projects.

Sifting through Quest Diagnostics' trash

The case stems from waste audits performed at Quest Diagnostics in San Joaquin County. It's alleged that the medical lab may have improperly managed confidential patient data, medical waste, and hazardous materials, prosecutors said.

More than 30 inspections were conducted by California district attorneys' offices at Quest Diagnostics laboratories and Patient Service Centers statewide.

During those inspections, DA investigators sifted through Quest Diagnostics’ compactors and dumpsters. Investigators say they discovered hundreds of containers of chemicals, bleach, reagents, batteries, and electronic waste; unredacted medical information; medical waste such as used specimen containers for blood and urine; and hazardous waste.

Disposals like those alleged in the DA's filing violate the Hazardous Waste Control Law, Medical Waste Management Act, Unfair Competition Law, and civil laws regarding the disclosure of personal health information.

"This underscores the significance of maintaining robust waste management practices in healthcare to uphold patient confidentiality and ensure public safety," Freitas stated.

A Quest Diagnostics spokesperson said the company takes patient privacy and the protection of the environment "very seriously" and has made investments to implement industry best practices to ensure waste and patient information are disposed of properly.

These practices include investing in technologies for the treatment of biological waste, secured destruction of patient information, programs to maximize recycling efforts and minimize waste-to-landfill disposal, waste-to-energy recovery of non-recyclable wastes, and "enhanced waste audit and inspection measures to ensure continued compliance with applicable laws," Quest spokesperson Denny Moynihan stated in an email to The Record.

Quest Diagnostics' track record

According to the San Joaquin District Attorney's Office, the DA's filing would require Quest Diagnostics to pay $3,999,500 in civil penalties, $700,000 in costs, and $300,000 for a Supplemental Environmental Project to support environmental training and enforcement in California.

The settlement also requires that Quest Diagnostics maintain an environmental compliance program, including hiring a third-party waste auditor and reporting annually on its progress.

This is not the first time Quest Diagnostic has been accused of wrongdoing.

In 2011, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that Quest Diagnostic would pay $241 million for overcharges to the Medi-Cal program.

That lawsuit claimed Quest "systematically" overcharged the state program for over 15 years and gave discounted or free testing to doctors, hospitals, and clinics that referred Medi-Cal patients and other businesses to the labs.

This is the third environmental filing by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office in the last six months, including Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. for $49 million and Tesla for $1.5 million.

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: San Joaquin County DA files environmental hazard case against Quest Diagnostics